Wine-tasting technique, grape varieties and winemaking keywords: find out everything you need to know when visiting a chateau.
How to taste wine
There are three main steps involved when tasting a wine, focusing on three of our senses: sight, smell and taste.
Observe: Appreciate the wine’s limpidity (clarity) and its colour. Red wines offer a host of colour variations, from violet highlights in their youth to deep brick colours in their maturity. These nuances can provide valuable information on the age, evolution and quality of a wine.
Smell and smell again: First smell the wine without agitating the glass. This allows you to identify the intensity of the nose: whether the aromas rise up to you on their own or whether you will have to go in search of them. Next, swirl the wine in your glass and smell again. To describe your impressions, you can use the major aromatic families:
- Fruity: raspberries, blackcurrants, cherries, strawberries, redcurrants, prunes
- Floral: violet, rose, peony, dried flowers
- Animal: leather, cured meat, game, musk
- Spicy: cinnamon, black pepper, clove, nutmeg
- Fiery: grilled (even burnt) notes, tobacco, wood smoke, coffee and other roasted aromas
- Woody: oak, dried or moist wood, cork
- Mineral: character such as flint
- Vegetal: grass, bracken, moss, forest floor, moist earth, mushrooms
Taste: Wine can taste sweet, salty, acid or bitter. The sensations accompanying the taste provide information about a wine’s roundness, which comes from the balance between tannins and acidity. Positive terms for tannins are velvety or silky; negatives are tight, big, astringent or drying.
Grape varieties (Cépage)
There are dozens of grape varieties for red and white wines. Some of the most famous include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for reds; Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon for whites.
Cabernet Sauvignon contributes colour and tannins. It allows wines to develop a long potential for ageing, and blackcurrant, chocolate and tobacco aromas.
Merlot gives a wine a robust character, suppleness and a rapid evolution. Compared with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot produces greater roundness in the mouth, and highlights aromas of red fruits (cherries), prunes and spices.
Cabernet Franc brings suppleness, mixed aromas of strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrant, as well as vegetal notes on occasion.
Ageing (Elevage): treatment of the wine after fermentation until bottling.
Alcoholic fermentation: the first fermentation which transforms the grapes’ sugar into alcohol.
Barrel (Barrique): a traditional oak barrel contains 225 litres of wine, the equivalent of 300 bottles.
Blending (Assemblage): mixing several grape varieties from the same geographical origin (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, etc). A chateau only blends its own wines.
Crushing (Foulage): bursting the grapes open and release their juice.
Destemming (Egrappage): separating the individual grapes from the stalks and removing the stems.
Devatting (Ecoulage): a technique used to draw off the wine leaving all the solids in the bottom of the vat and to separate the free-run wine from the press wine produced by the marc during pressing.
Fining (Collage): adding whisked egg whites to the wine in the barrel and mixing them to clarify the wine.
Malo-lactic fermentation: second fermentation to transform the malic acid into lactic acid, therefore ensuring a natural reduction of the wine’s acidity.
Marc: the solid residue from the maceration of the wine. It is removed from the vat once the wine has been run off and then pressed.
Parcel selection (Parcellaire): distributing the grapes harvested from each parcel into individual vats to monitor the development of the wine with precision.
Polyphenols: all the phenolic compounds, anthocyanins and tannins which play a vital role in the colour of the wine and its tasting qualities.
Pressing (Pressurage): pressing the marc from the bottom of the vat to obtain the press wine.
Pumping-over (Remontage): pumping of the liquid from the bottom of the vat, during fermentation, up over the cap to homogenize the fermentation process and to intensify the colour of the wine.
Racking (Soutirage): transfer of the wine from one barrel to another to enable the separation of the lees from the wine.
Tannin (Tanin): an organic product contained in the pips, the skin and the stalks of the grape. It contributes to the ageing of the wine, especially in red wines.
Vatting (Cuvaison): time during which the wine is left in the fermentation tank.