When you learned how to taste wine, you might have come across the “Five S” procedure: See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor. Some tasting procedures may add others steps like Swish and Spit. At very large wine tastings, spitting becomes very common as you don’t want to get drunk before tasting through all of the wines. But is there is a missing step in all these procedures? Wine color can tell a lot about the wine that you will be drinking.
Wine tasting should be rewarding and memorable. It should excite the senses, and most importantly, it should be fun. Even though many just assume that wine tasting is sipping, swishing, and swallowing – many are amazed to find that it is actually a bit more.
Colour can tell a lot about wine therefore you have to look to get the sense of its color. When doing this, some people like to hold their glass of wine against a white background, as this helps to see the colour more clearly.
The wine color comes from the contact of the grape skins after the grapes have been juiced. The longer the wine comes in contact with those skins, the more the skins will impact their color on the wine. If the grapes are skinned and juiced out, never letting them come in contact with their skin. The juice would have no color at all. Because the grape skin have a lot of characteristics of their own, the longer the skin of a grape is in contact with the wine and more of it impacts its own characteristics in the wine. Although the oak can also help make the win colors lighter or darker, so understanding the color especially for white wines, can help who don’t like oaky white wines avoid them. White wine, the first thing to identify is if the shade of yellow is very light and bright or if it looks like it’s almost clear, or is the yellow full and deep, or more like straw color? Bright and light white wines that is translucent has had minimal contact with grape skins and always crisp and refreshing. Typically, these wines have not been aged in an oak barrel. If the wine is quiet darker or deeper in yellow then, this is a good sign that the wine was aged in an oak barrel. It will have smoother taste and will be much fuller and richer.
One step in tasting wine is devoted to smell, the Sniff phase, where you breathe in the odors of the wine, and this is known as the orthonasal. Yet our sense of smell has another component, one which you hear far less about and which many tasting procedures seem to fully, or at least partially, ignore. This is the retronasal, the breathing out, and it may seem strange to some that you can smell by exhaling. Before I explain more about the retronasal though, let us address the differences between taste and flavor.
There are five basic tastes, including sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and umami, and we basically experience these on our tongue through our taste buds. So it is biology that determines our sensitivity to these tastes and it is not something we can generally improve or change. Flavor though comes through the interplay of smells and our brains. Your tongue cannot detect cherries or grapefruit, merely when something is sweet or sour. Cherries and grapefruit are flavors that you discern through aromatic molecules that are interpreted by your brain. And you can learn to discern additional flavors through training.
Now, flavor is mostly determined by our retronasal smell, so why do so many people ignore this important element? By breathing out, with your mouth closed, the air in your lungs is forced into your mouth and then acquires the aromatic molecules from food and drink. As your mouth is closed, the air must then enter the nasal chambers where the aromatic molecules stimulate the olfactory sensory neurons, leading your brain to discern flavor. Chewing and swallowing assists in this process.
So, if you taste wine and spit, you are likely missing out on some of the flavors of wine due to a reduced chance to experience the retronasal smell. There are some ways to improve your retronasal experience even if you spit, such as swirling the wine in your mouth, releasing more of the aromatic molecules from the wine. You could also, with a mouthful of wine, exhale through your nose while your mouth is closed. Even if you do spit, you will probably swallow a tiny bit of wine, which will provide some retronasal smells though swallowing is probably the only way to gain the full effect.
So, though spitting may be essential to tasting through a group of wines, it may not be the best way to experience the flavors of a wine. So should we really base tasting notes on experiences where we spit the wines? Or should we instead only write them where we swallow the wine, and get the full retronasal effect? Consumers are most likely to drink and swallow the wines they buy, so should reviews, which hope to best inform these consumers, be based on swallowing the wine? Should reviews where you only spit the wine bear a caveat, informing consumers that you did not experience the full retronasal effect?
Do you taste wines paying attention to the retronasal, and if so, what do you do to experience the retronasal as much as possible?