How Do I Judge A Wine? by Gérard Ternois
Wine is described by words identifying its appeal to three senses: Sight, Smell and Taste.
The taster looks at three factors - appearance, color and body.
Appearance: A brilliant wine has sparkling clarity, free from floating particles. A clear wine does not sparkle. Dull wine has floating particles and is slightly cloudy. Cloudy wine does not reflect any light. Well-made wine in sound condition is always completely clear. Some mature reds produce a natural sediment, but it should not spread throughout the wine. If it does, the bottle should rest, standing, so sediment can settle to the bottom.
Color: Wines are predominantly red, white or pink, or variations of these colors. Color is influenced by the length of fermentation, time the grape juice is kept on the skins, time in the cask and bottle aging.
Fortified Wines vary. Sherry, technically a white wine, ranges from pale straw-yellow to a deep brown color. Port may be red or white and ranges from deep purple to ruby to pale tawny.
White Wines range from virtual colorlessness to pale yellow-green to deeper shades of yellow gold to amber. A distinct green tinge is common in young white wines.
Red Wines vary in hue from deep purple to various shades of red to mahogany and amber.
Rose (Pink) Wines range from pale yellow-ping to coral, peach, deep pink and light red.
Body: Body refers to the substance of a wine. One indication of a wine's body is its
color - the deeper the color, the fuller the body.
A wine's body is measured by swirling it around the glass and seeing how long it takes
the wine to flow down the sides. Full-bodied wines are heavy and come down the sides
of the glass in sheets. Medium-bodied wines are less thick and break into "legs" (lines
of colorless glycerin) as they flow down the sides. Light-bodied wines are not heavy and
will not cling to the sides of the glass when swirled.
The nose or smell of a wine describes the perfume it gives off in the form of esters. It is determined by the aromas and bouquets. Aroma is the part of the smell derived from the grape, as for example, a flowery nose. Bouquet is derived from the aging of the wine in the cask and in the bottle, as for example, a woody nose.
Judge the nose by sniffing the wine in an open glass. The nose can range from very pronounced to moderate to subtle. A wine is lacking nose if there is no detectable smell whatsoever.
Pleasant Nose: Fresh nose - wine is pleasant with youthful charm. Flowery nose - wine is fragrant with intense aroma of lilacs, honeysuckle or other flowers. Fruity nose - attractive, fresh quality, of rip grapes, but not grapey. Fragrant nose - attractive, naturally scented. Spicy nose - rich, herb-like of spicy aroma. Clean nose - absence of unpleasant odors. Woody nose - wine has the scent of wood. Yeasty nose - suggestive of yeast.
Unpleasant Nose: Metallic nose - unpleasant, usually due to metal contamination during wine-
making or aging process. Moldy nose - unpleasant nose imparted by rotten grapes, or stale,
unclean casks. Cory nose - distance smell of cork. Sulfuric nose - similar to smell of rotten eggs.
Oxidized nose - stale smell due to exposure to air. Vinegary nose - similar to vinegar; wine is
unfit to drink.
Taste of a wine should confirm conclusions drawn from its appearance and bouquet. To judge
taste, swirl a reasonable mouthful of wine around in the mouth for all the taste buds to experience.
Flavor: Intensity and length of flavor reflect quality of the wine. Wines have a definite flavor that
is strong and easily recognized, a mild flavor, or an obscure, faint flavor.
Dry or Sweet: Sweet wines have a taste similar to a solution of water and sugar. Degrees of
sweetness range from very sweet to semi-sweet. Dry wines have an absence of sugar and
range from semi-dry to very dry.
Tart: Tart wines have an agreeable degree of acidity caused by tartaric acid. The tart taste in
wine can be compared to the tart taste of orange juice. Degrees of tartness vary from very tart,
tart, slightly tart to lacking tartness.
Astringent: Astringent wines have a bitter taste, similar to cold coffee. A highly astringent wine
will cause the mouth to pucker. The astringency is produced by the tannin in grape skins, and
varies from very astringent to slightly astringent to lacking astringency. Reds are usually astringent; whites lack astringency.
Balance: At the time when the wine is ready for drinking, all the wine's components are in harmony with no excess tannin or acidity.
After taste: The impression the wine leaves in the mouth after swallowing. Well-made wines have a clean, crisp finish. Poor quality wines finish "short" or tail off to a watery, insubstantial end. Top-quality wines have a long finish after extending to a lingering aftertaste - a flavor that remains in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed.