Some Hints to Become a Better Wine Taster
By Donnie Winchell
Editor’s Note: The Lake Erie Islands have a rich history when it comes to growing grapes and wine making. New this month is a column about wine from Donniella “Donnie” Winchell.
Donnie is the Executive Director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association and chair of their Vintage Ohio Wine Festival. Robert Gottesman’s vision [longtime owner of Meier’s Wine Cellars. Lonz and Firelands Wineries, with his commitment to world class grapes on North Bass Island] helped launch her career nearly 40 years ago. She serves on many national committees and is a member of the Ohio Wine and Ohio Agriculture Halls of Fame as well as the recipient of several national awards for the OWPA’s commitment to growing grapes and producing award winning wine in Ohio.
As this island’s ‘wine culture’ spreads to an ever wider audience, and as our residents become ever more wine savvy, below are some hints [some simple, some more complex] to consider as your palate develops.
Clarity: Wines should be brilliantly clear, clear of visible particles for sure, but also free of any haze or cloudiness.
Bubbles: While ‘Champagnes’ [the term reserved for wines produced in a unique region in France] and Sparklers [generally used for wines with intentionally developed bubbles] are supposed to have effervescence, table wines generally will not. The bubbles come from the presence of carbon dioxide in the liquid. One exception occurs because sometimes, when young table wines are bottled in cold cellar conditions, a barely discernible ‘spritz’ adds a little interest in the months after bottling. This is not generally regarded as a negative. However, when fermentation has not completely finished in a cellar, and there is a re-fermentation in the bottle, watch out! Spoilage has occurred. The cork will likely push and wine will spill onto your white carpet or explode onto a wall across from your wine rack. Not good!!
Legs: These are the little rivlets that cling to the inside of a glass of wine when swirled. They are an indication of sweetness or a sign of the percentage of alcohol in the liquid. The higher the sweetness the thicker and long lasting the legs will become. Conversely, higher alcohol will result in thinner albeit a larger number of legs.
Color, White wines: These should range from colorless to light yellow-green to light straw to medium gold to a deep golden color. Low color wines tend to come from cool climate regions and are from more recent vintages. Medium color wines generally have some oak aging, have had lots of hang time in the vineyard at the end of harvest, more bottle aging time or are sweeter wines. Once white wines begin to show evidence of ‘browning,’ they are likely becoming oxidized and should be quickly consumed before they go ‘over the hill.’
Color, Red wines: Colors for reds range from pink to light red to medium red to a deep dark ruby red. An older wine will often be described as having a ‘brick red’ look whereas a recently-released wine will show lots of purple hues. Pink wines are usually made from red grapes, but traditionally are pressed quickly with little skin contact. Certain red grape varieties have more natural pigment than others so a Pinot Noir will produce a lighter red that would a Cabernet Sauvignon. As wines mature in the bottle, they take on an ever more tawny appearance: but as with whites, once browning occurs, wine quality rapidly diminishes.
Aromas and Odors: The content of volatiles in wine result in lots of different varietal odors [like the peach, melon and pear ones in Riesling or the blackberry and plum in a Syrah] and each grape provides a different olfactory experience once finished into wine. However, regardless, the aromas [which from the fresh fruit] and the bouquets [which result from the complexity of fruit plus cellar time and bottle aging] should always be pleasant. Off odors from tainted corks, oxidation, poor cellar practices, etc., are indications of spoilage and provide a justifiable reason to ask for a different bottle when ordering in a restaurant or sipping at a winery.
Professional tasters deal with minute differences from glass to glass and the nuances they consider before awarding medals are many. However, for most of us, tasting is just lots of fun. So enjoy!
For additional information: dwinchell@OhioWines.org
The previous piece is published in this month’s Put-in-Bay Gazette. The Gazette has been producing incredible independent Put-in-Bay island news for over 40 years. If you have any interest at all in what is happening on South Bass Island, we urge you strongly to subscribe to the Put-in-Bay Gazette. One-year online subscriptions are only $15, and print subscriptions are available as well. To subscribe please click here.
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