Tasting Tips for QLD’s Wine Country
QLD’s Wine Country is famous for a wide variety of wines, some well-known, others wonderfully rare. There’s a good chance your palate will be introduced to something new when you visit the Southern Downs region, particularly if you take yourself along the Strange Bird Wine Trail in the Granite Belt. It is, therefore, more important than ever to have a good understanding of the tasting process. To get the most out of your QLD’s Wine Country tasting experience, we recommend that you follow the ‘S’s in this six step strategy.
1. Set the scene
Make sure there is nothing in your immediate surrounds that could get in the way of you noticing the subtleties of the wine and appreciating its character in full. Temperature and lighting should be neutral, there should be minimal noise, and there should be no strong or distracting odours.
Your glass should be clean, completely clear, and large enough to let you to give the wine a swirl without spilling it. A stem is a good idea as well, so you don’t warm the wine by cupping the glass in your hand.
If you are tasting several varieties, start with lighter wines and then move on to the fuller-bodied ones. Most cellar doors have their wines listed in this order anyway so you rarely have to think too hard about it.
Pour some wine into your glass. Don’t fill it. Between a finger’s breadth and a third of a glass full is perfect.
Observe the wine’s depth of colour, hue, clarity, and viscosity. This can tell you a lot about whether it is aged, how much alcohol it contains, and the potential grape variety. A white background such as a tablecloth or a piece of paper will make the observation process easier.
Look straight down into the glass. This enables you get a sense of the depth of colour, density, and saturation of the wine. Riper grapes will have a deeper colour. White wine darkens with age but it should never be brown. Red wine loses colour and can become an orangey brown at the rim with age. A vivid purple colour suggests a red wine is young.
Hold the glass up to the light and look at it from the side. This lets you see how clear it is. The wine should not be murky or cloudy. Red wines have a sediment which may gather in the bottom of your glass. This is not a fault. It is a natural part of winemaking. Bubbles in non-sparkling wine suggest a very young cool climate wine.
Tilt the glass so the wine rolls towards the edge and thins out at the rim. This allows you to determine whether it is thin and possibly bland, oxidised, or past its prime. Oxidisation occurs when wine comes into contact with air. This can result in it losing its primary fruit characters and developing a brown hue.
Swirl the wine in the glass by lightly twirling the stem for no more than 5 seconds. This mixes the wine with oxygen and helps its aromas open up. It also spreads the wine over the sides of the glass thereby increasing the surface area and making it easier to smell.
Does the wine have nice legs? Legs are the droplets of wine that roll down the inside of a wine glass after it has been tilted or swirled. They are the result of fluid surface tension caused by the evaporation of alcohol. High alcohol wines collect a higher density of droplets than low alcohol wines. Sweeter wines are more viscous, so the droplets flow more slowly down the sides of the glass. More “legs” may indicate a full-bodied wine.
Put your nose a centimetre or two into the glass and breathe in gently. It helps to do this with an open mouth because that opens up your olfactory system. Don’t breathe in too hard because you can numb your taste buds. If you can’t smell much, give the glass another swirl and try again. However, make sure to leave 20 to 30 seconds between sniffs. Your nose will take that long to recover.
Nice aromas include:
- Fruits like citrus fruits, berries, cherries, roasted figs, stone fruits, or tropical fruits
- Flowers such as rose petals, elderflower, honeysuckle, or violets
- Spices like cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, or nutmeg
- Distinctive smells such as brioche, walnuts, coconut, vanilla, toast, pepper, tobacco, chocolate, or coffee
- Earthy scents like wood, soil, minerals, or rocks
Not-so-nice aromas like musty old attic, wet newspaper, sweaty saddle, vinegar, and mould are not desirable. These can be signs that the wine has oxidised or been exposed to unwanted elements.
Each grape variety has a primary aroma that is derived from the grapes. Primary aromas include fruits, herbs, and floral notes. For example, chardonnay has a stone fruit note, sauvignon blanc nods to green pepper, riesling is known to smell of limes, cabernet has a blackcurrant scent, and gewürztraminer smells like lychee.
Secondary aromas come from winemaking practices. You may recognise clove, vanilla, coconut, and nutty smells derived from oak barrels, or yeast notes like cheese rind or nut husk from the fermentation process.
Tertiary aromas come from aging. Your nose may notice roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, cedar, and even coconut.
Take a sip of wine. Roll it around in your mouth and expose it to all of your taste buds. Notice the texture, weight, and body. Identify the initial flavours. Spit the wine into a spittoon.
Take another sip and inhale some air at the same time. This helps you to assess the fullness of the flavour. Tasting is an extension of smelling. Most of the flavours you get when you taste wine come through your nose because it is connected to the back of your mouth.
The taste of a wine is broadly described in terms of sweetness, acidity, and tannin. Acidity gives wine its lift, while an absence of it makes a wine taste flat or “flabby”. Tannin comes from the skins, seeds and stems, and creates a dryness in the mouth in the finish. Too much tannin can create a bitter taste. Wines that are high in alcohol can taste more tannic or sweeter. A balanced and harmonious wine will have its basic flavour components seamlessly integrated and in good proportion.
A light-bodied wine will have a lighter, thinner, less viscous mouthfeel; a full-bodied wine will feel heavy and creamy.
Think about the aftertaste. The finish of quality wines can linger on the palate for up to 60 seconds. You might also notice elements that were not obvious while the wine was still in your mouth.
Ask yourself these questions.
- Balance – Did it taste balanced?
- Intensity – How strong were the flavours?
- Complexity – How many different flavours were there?
- Memorability – Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed?
- Personal preference – Do I like this wine?
Don’t forget that the point of tasting is not to identify every last aroma and flavour. The aim is to work out which wines you like and to create a context for the future selection of wines you are likely to enjoy.
Whatever your approach or your ultimate favourite, there are over 50 cellar doors to explore in QLD’s Wine Country where award-winning wine makers are waiting to guide you through a unique tasting experience.