Taste is a beautiful thing.
The average human tongue has over 5,000 taste buds. They detect the extra salt in a juicy grass-fed burger and the hint of lemon acidity in a light salad dressing. If we pay close attention, we can taste the whole spectrum of flavors: salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami (savory).
Believe it or not, every one of these flavors is in a glass of natural wine. That’s right; fermented natural grape juice provides one of the most unique and well-studied taste experiences in the culinary world.
This is because a wine’s taste is more than just a flavor described by fancy sounding words. Wine presents a complete sensory adventure. It’s actually a science called neuro-enology, and with a little practice, you can be a professional neuro-enologist - a.k.a., wine taster :-)
A wine tasting begins before you physically taste the wine. You can engage all your senses to fully enjoy the experience.
Listen to the sound of wine pouring into a glass. The “gluh gluh” sound of an emptying bottle and the splashing of grape juice get you psychologically ready for your delicious drink. This will trigger your salivary glands in anticipation!
Swirl the wine in your glass and hold it up to the light. Notice the clarity and brightness of the color. Natural wines can be cloudy because they’re unfiltered. What’s the color? Is it ruby red? How about golden white? For example, Austria’s Zweigelt grape often produces a dark purple hue.
Swirl the wine again and breathe in the aromatics. This is called the “nose.” Notice how intense or delicate the smell is. Do you smell anything familiar - maybe white flowers or raspberry jam? The nose often hints at the varietal of grape in the wine. For instance, the Cabernet Franc grape usually has the distinct scent of green peppers.
Take a sip. Let the wine linger in your mouth before swallowing. You’re experiencing the wine’s “palate.” Does it make your tongue tingle? Do you start salivating immediately? How about after you swallow - does the taste linger or disappear?
Feel the wine when it touches your mouth Is it smooth so it goes down easy? Does it dry out your mouth? How bitter is it? Pay attention to how you react.
Once you’re fully engaging all your senses, you’ll start to notice certain aspects of wine. Here are some words to help you describe them...
Sweetness is the residual sugar you perceive in wine. Ask yourself the easy question, does it taste sugary or not? For most Rieslings and dessert wines like Sauternes, the answer will be yes.
The opposite of sweet is dry. Technically, any wine containing less than 3 g/L of sugar is a dry wine.
Tannin is a lip-smacking sensation that dries out your mouth. It’s caused by grape skins, stems, aging barrels, and seeds soaking in the wine during winemaking. If the tannins are too high in a wine, it can lead to excessive bitterness.
Some grapes taste better with a greater tannic structure, so stylistically the winemakers will choose to increase tannins. A great example is Syrah from France’s Rhone region.
Acidity gives your tongue a tart, tingling sensation and causes your mouth to water. It’s often described as “freshness” or “brightness.” All wines will have some acid as a product of the natural pH balance in grapes, but whites generally have more.
Wines vary in alcohol levels from low to high. Alcohol content is very important to the taste of the wine. If it’s too strong, it may overpower the other subtle characteristics of the wine. You’ll notice it warms your tongue or makes you cringe. But, if it’s too weak, it may not give enough depth and weight to the wine overall.
Body is a very general term for “mouthfeel” or “weight.” How heavy or full does the wine feel in your mouth? Sometimes a wine tastes powerful and then disappears quickly; this is a lighter, leaner body. Other times the taste lingers for a while in your mouth; this is a heavier body.
When a wine is “well-balanced,” all of these aspects live in harmony.
At Dry Farm Wines, we procure well-balanced, elegant wines that satisfy our stringent health and taste criteria.
The natural wines in our collection - made without commercial products and minimal intervention - often follow patterns in taste. They are dry and lower in alcohol because we limit sugar at 1g/L (statistically sugar-free) and alcohol at 12.5%.
We do both of these for significant health reasons. Sugar is extremely inflammatory and the leading cause of many health epidemics, and high alcohol can seriously damage your neurological functions.
Often, due to the dryness and lower alcohol, many of our wines will feature more acid, giving them a fresh, mouthwatering feel to them. This makes them easy to drink by themselves and also very adaptable with a wide array of cuisines.
Taste is one of the most valuable and pleasurable aspects of the human experience. That’s why we love wine! It puts all your taste buds to work in a kaleidoscope of flavors.
Next time you open a bottle of wine, share your tasting notes aloud with others. It’s fun and exciting to discuss how a wine tastes in a social setting.
And remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” when expressing how you experience a wine. After all, taste is a highly personal adventure. Simply use the vocabulary above to help guide your senses.
This is what we do for a living and we have a ton of fun!