In recent years much has been happening to wine in Australia. There are new varieties and new grape growing areas, such as in Southern and Eastern Victoria. They are often different from mainstream Australian styles and have features and qualities that can be easily missed. In brief, this Course is about a shift from mouthfeel (traditional) to the new aroma/flavour-based wines mixed with some sensible consumer information.
The following is a list of exercises that will enable the reader to make the transition and benefit more from their wine experience.
Take a bottle of dry white or red wine, a small and a large wine glass, a tumbler of water, a spittoon and even some plain water biscuits.
Pour some wine into a wine glass and taste- don’t drink! Use the spittoon.
Rinse mouth with water. Taste wine again.
Moral: The first taste of a wine is unreliable and misleading. The mouth can be influenced for hours by what we have eaten and drunk previously, especially sweet things. The second taste is better.
Pour some wine into the two different shaped glasses. Swirl gently and sniff each.
Moral: The shape of a wine glass influences the perception of wine aroma.
Now taste the wines from Exercise #2, rinsing your mouth with water between tastes.
Different? Probably. The wine in the larger glass seems to taste fuller and more flavoursome.
Why? The larger glass is more likely to deliver to the front of the mouth.
Take the smaller glass and consciously pour some wine at the front of the mouth, keeping your head level.
Is the experience similar to that from the larger glass? Probably.
Moral: As long as you deposit the wine at the front of the mouth, then glass shape doesn’t affect your oral experience of a wine.
An extension of Exercise #3.
Taste the wine as you would normally. Rinse your mouth with water.
Taste the wine a second time, but this time, make sure it is delivered to the front of the mouth and chew gently, like a portion of food. Do not swallow or hold your breath! Wait.
Different? If not then you are drinking well.
For most people there is a difference, as they think they should drink a drink.
Moral: To enjoy wine it is better to “eat” than to drink it!
Taste the wine and hold your breath for about 10 seconds. What do you experience?
Breathe out. What do you experience now?
Different? If you do not have a cold or damaged nose then they are different types of experience.
The first is the mouthfeel or structure of a wine e.g. dry, acid, sweet, heavy, cold, tannin etc.
(The perception of balance is an interpretation of these in the cerebral cortex).
The second is the aroma in the mouth or “bacaroma” of a wine e.g. fruity, oaky, spicy, melon, cherry etc. (No, these are not fruits added to the wine, just part of the miracle of grapes that it can express the aromas of its cousin fruits.)
Moral and Explanation: Three senses are involved in the wine experience. Visual, nasal and oral; but when the wine enters the mouth the oral and nasal (for the second time) compete for your attention. The mouthfeel is continuous and slowly fades. The second aroma (or bacaroma) is harmonised with your breathing. It is there as you breathe out, but not when you breathe in; when only the mouthfeel will be apparent.
The word ‘flavour’ derives from ‘savour’ (old French) and means the total oral experience, combining mouthfeel and bacaroma. It is what lingers. I prefer to use “bacaroma” for the aroma that derives from the mouth as it is coming back over the nasal sensors. The aroma from the glass is coming in from the front of the nose i.e. the wine experience has two attempts to discern aroma, front and back. Sometimes they are similar, but they can be different.
If the first five exercises were beneficial and you feel confident, then by all means proceed to the last four. More preparation will be required.
Purchase a $10-15 wine and a $30-35 one of the same grape variety e.g. Chardonnay, Shiraz etc. or style e.g. Mornington, Yarra Valley, Coonawarra, Margaret River etc. You want to compare the same variety though grown in different places.
Ask your partner to pour them into two wine glasses of the same type, such that you do not know what is in each. This is a “blind” tasting– a practice unknown to wine journalists, but standard in Wine Shows.
As you have learnt, eat the wines, rinsing your mouth between tastes. If these are the first wines of the day, don’t forget to taste the first wine twice, to prepare the mouth.
Which wine gives more? Is it balanced? Does it have lingering flavours? A sure sign of an ordinary wine is that it is ‘short’ in flavour. Bacaroma is the better guide to quality than mouthfeel – the latter tells you more about the wine’s longevity. Many people believe that a ‘heavy’ wine is quality, but a good wine gives more of everything. Only low-cropped quality grapes will give lingering flavours. This blind exercise is wonderful to check expensive well-known labels. Prepare to be surprised.
Moral: Congratulations! You can now discern quality in wine.
a) Purchase two bottles of a dry white wine. Leave one in the fridge (4°C) for a day and the other just an hour before the tasting, so it is about 10°C.
Taste each in a generous glass. Which gives more? If you prefer the colder wine then go back to Exercise #1!
b) A dry red wine is to be tasted at three temperatures: 15°C, 20°C and 25°C.
Take a dry red from the cellar (15°C). Pour a small portion into a generous glass.
Put cork back in and give 25 seconds in a microwave oven (lay bottle on side). Pour into glass. Repeat, and another put the bottle back in microwave for another 25 seconds. Pour into a glass.
Now taste all three. How are they different?
The first will be more tannic and ‘closed’, the warm one softer and thinner but spirituous, and the 20°C one should be just right! Like Goldilocks and the three bears, except she liked the smallest one.
As wine is a mixture of aromas, acids, bitterness and sweetness (the alcohol) temperature is important. Australian red wine is designed to be drunk around 20°C . French wines and Pinot Noir are okay at 15°C because they have less or different tannins. Coolness brings up the texture in these wines.
Dry whites needs to be cool to give a sense of freshness, but too cold (i.e. fridge temperature 4°C) only numbs them.
However, sparkling and sweet wines do need to be served cold.
Exercise #8: The hazards of the “tasting sequence”.
Let’s simulate a typical cellar door experience where one wine quickly follows another.
- Take two dry whites (e.g. a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay) or even one dry and a sweet white.
- Taste one, then the other, without water between them,
- Then wash out your mouth,
- Reverse the order and taste again.
Different? Note how they “overlap”; how one can interfere with the other, even making it unpleasant.
- Now, take two red wines such as a warm climate Shiraz or Cabernet (e.g. Barossa, McLaren Vale) and a mild climate Pinot Noir (e.g. Mornington, Yarra Valley). Repeat as above.
Different? Note how the larger bodied (or mouthfeel) wine makes the lighter bodied wine appear “thinner”, but there is little carryover when the lighter wine is tasted first.
Moral: Unless wines are similar, a frequent rinse of the mouth with water is a good idea.
a) The British Masters of Wine believe that by tasting a mouthful of wine they can overcome the effects of the tasting sequence and confidently pass from red to white to sweet to red, etc. My experience is that this belief is not well founded.
b) If you have ever wondered why high alcohol/tannin reds do well in Wine Shows then this is a factor. Lesser bodied but more flavoursome wines appear “thin” alongside their “fat” companions.
Exercise #9 : Decanting and old wines.
Many people believe that old wines need to be decanted.
Find a 10+-year-old wine, probably a red. Pull out the cork, carefully– corks can disintegrate. Bottle variation is caused by cork variation. Pour gently into a glass and taste immediately, and then taste every 5 minutes for half an hour. Follow the changes in aroma/bacaroma and mouthfeel.
What do you notice?
Look for the gradual disappearance of the fruity type aromas and the shift in mouthfeel from perhaps a hardness to become softer, though a wine that remains hard is regarded as being “over the hill”.
Explanation: Normally the preservative (sulphur dioxide) protects the wine from change but this has usually all gone within 4-5 years after bottling. Thereafter the sealed bottle develops in the absence of oxygen a range of bouquets/aromas etc.
Upon exposure to air these unstable compounds quickly take up oxygen and effectively disappear. Some aromas are very stable, such as oak and “toastiness” and they remain. The change in mouthfeel is also an oxidation. Wines are very complex!
Moral: Decanting can kill aroma/bacaroma but soften the mouthfeel. A good use for decanting is for young wines, in order to reduce the preservative levels.
Winemaker & Viticulturist
Nicholson River Winery
October 2009 (updated June 2012)