So, you've seen
the wine, now it's time for the bit you've been waiting for, the wine tasting
. You noticed when we talked about smelling wine how the flavour changed when you swirled it in the glass. Well, the same thing happens on the palate
If you just take a sip of wine and drink as normal you will feel and taste the wine predominantly across the surface of the tongue. However, your taste buds are far more widespread than just the middle of your tongue so we need to swish the wine to really 'taste' it properly.
To really intensify the flavours in wine we need to replicate the swishing in the glass but on the palate and to reach all parts of the mouth. As you can see from the image different areas of the tongue
are susceptible to different things.
Sweetness - and dryness, we detect at the tip of the tongue. If a wine is very dry you may feel an almost itchy tingle here. Most wine on the market is dry but because it id fruity it sort of tricks the brain into thinking it's sweet.
Sourness - also called acidity we feel at the sides of our tongue. Think about when you taste a Sauvignon Blanc, for example. It is an acidic wine and if it reaches the sides of your mouth your saliva glands are affected. This causes you to salivate which in turns triggers a response in your brain to make you hungry. It's why we have acidic wine as an aperitif as it actually prepares you for food.
Bitterness - this is the largest taste area on your tongue and can be felt in the fleshy bit between your back teeth. This area is also often known as the mid-palate and wines lacking balance often don't have much effect on this part of the tongue. The wine just feels like something is missing.
Alcohol - The tongue goes all the way into the back of your throat and it is here we detect alcohol. For wine it is usually a warming feeling but think about when drinking spirits. That burning sensation is the alcohol affecting the tongue.
Finish - when the wine has left the mouth, the feeling and sensation that remains is known as the finish, or the length. We feel it on the soft-palate; push your tongue back as if to reach your nose from the inside, there. If you can really savour the flavour of the wine here and if it lingers a long time you've got a good wine. If the flavour just disappears then it's probably not so good.
So, when wine tasting, to replicate the action of swirling the wine in the glass, we need to swirl and slurp on the palate. Take a small sip and then take a short sharp breath in to draw air into the mouth too. Now treat it like mouthwash and you'll really feel and taste the wine all around the mouth. The flavours you get should be similar to the aromas you got on the nose but you should also consider the weight and texture of the wine. The mouthfeel wheel will help with descriptors so consider how the wine feels as well as tastes. Is it light and zingy or full bodied and rich?
When wine tasting with red wine you will have tannins
to deal with as well as the fruit, body, weight
. Tannins are naturally occuring in the skins of red grapes and manifest themselves in wine as a drying sensation, especially around the teeth and gums. wines designed to age will often have grippy tannins that will soften with age. In well made wine they will be balanced and not feel aggressive or out of place. Older wines have softer tannins and will feel more silky and smooth. Consider how long the flavour lasts for too, see 'finish' above.
When you think about the wine as a whole entity then, you look at all the elements together. It's advisable to start with individual elements and build up to analysing all things at once. There's a lot of information to be drawn from wine so take your time to find out what works for you. Think about your normal eating and drinking choices. If you normally like bitter things, 70%+ cocoa content chocolate or espresso coffee, you probably won't pick up the bitterness in wine as much, the acidity and sweetness will come to the fore. Conversely those who have a sweet tooth with detect bitterness and acidity more. It all makes sense.
Try it all for yourself and see if your appreciation of wine alters. You may become more aware of the subtle nuances in wine and therefore what you enjoy may become more varied too. Enjoy!