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“A full bodied wine, austere but muscular, with a great nose and soft tannins. This wine would complement sturdy dishes of beef and furred game. It has a dark colour with great legs – a sign of high alcohol – and assertive flavours of ripe berries, stone fruits, toasty and cigar box smells “.

This fictitious wine description might be laying it on just a bit thick, but often you read such reviews and sometimes even hear it from people with a poetic bend.

This descriptive vocabulary of wine is rich and expanding all the time as wine enthusiasts become more interested, educated, and exposed to a variety of wine from all over the world (The LCBO “Liquor Control Board of Ontario” is the largest purchaser of alcoholic beverages in the world and controls all products for contaminants in its state-of-the-art laboratory). Although you may not be interested in describing any wine poetically, a few well chosen descriptive words will convey your feeling about a particular wine to friends and family unsure of their evaluation. Legs and body (nose too) are words commonly used in wine descriptions. Legs are the alcohol, more precisely the glycerol, running down the inside the glass after you swirl the wine. They are indicative of high alcohol levels and/or sweetness.

Then smell the wine. The best way of doing this is to bring the glass close (1”) to your nose. Do not put your nose in the glass! Smell to determine how pleasant the aroma or bouquet of the wine is. Aroma refers to the smell of the fruit, bouquet is the result of wine making and aging in barrels. On occasion people refer to both (aroma and bouquet) combined as the “ nose “. It can be reminiscent of berries, flowers, stone fruits, apples, pears, tobacco leaf, cigar box, vegetables ( a definite indication of under ripe fruit in red wines ) goose berries, roses, tar ( yes tar as in asphalt ) and any word your imagination can conjure.

Now that you have determined the different smells, proceed to the next step.

Take a generous sip, swirl it around your mouth after you suck in air. This allows you to register the different smells on your retro-nasal tract.

Different parts of the tongue detect sweetness or saltiness (the tip); acidity (the sides); weight (the middle); bitter (the back).

A well-made wine has a brilliant, appealing colour. The shades of colour give you an idea about the age – young red wine is purple, then it turns to brilliant red, then to brick red; to orangey-red; eventually to mahogany to be “dead“.

White wines follow a different path. They start life with a greenish yellow hue and turn yellow, dark yellow, and eventually gold to old gold. Once a dry white wine has turned amber, it is “ over the hill “.

Sweet white wines are dark yellow at the start and turn to amber with age, eventually brown – a sure sign of deterioration. A sweet white wine should smell pleasant and in your mouth appear to be balanced, refreshing, smooth, free of distractive flavours and finish with a long satisfying after taste. The after taste could be as short as immediate and as long as two to three minutes; in exceptional cases much longer.

A “shallow wine“ lacks profundity and fails to convey anything.  Sharp in wine speak refers to acidity. An acidic wine goes well with oysters. Should you happen to be in a seafood restaurant on either coast of Canada, or in New Orleans, do seize the opportunity to dine on oysters and select an acidic wine to wash it down. Terms like barnyard, mushroom, wet earth “ meaty “, sometimes appear in wine descriptions.

Wine is an agricultural product and the soil that nurtured the fruit imparts a particular taste. Weather conditions during the growing season play an important role as well. Such descriptions crop up when talking about Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Syrah wines, or those that contain large proportions of these varieties.

“ Fat “ wines are alcoholic (high in alcohol) and rich in extract. They appear to sit heavily on your tongue, whereas “ light “ wines contain low levels of alcohol and are delicate. Fat wines, mostly red, go well with heavy, flavourful foods, while light wines are best with delicate foods such as poached trout, fish pates, sautéed chicken and sole fillet.

A full-bodied wine is not “fat“, but sufficiently alcoholic to coat your tongue, and has a moderately deep flavour profile.

A tannic wine is astringent; it puckers your mouth and leaves it dry.

Now we come to the finish. A well-made wine finishes smooth and clean. It glides down your throat effortlessly with a pleasant, lingering taste in your mouth. Wine with short after tastes or none at all are like water. Once you swallow, they are gone. Why spend money on wine when water will do!

Generally the longer the after taste, the better the wine. A great wine will leave you satisfied, fulfilled, and craving more. When enjoying a well-made wine the first sip invites the second, the first glass the second, and the first bottle the second.

Wine is food and the one you like after knowledgeably comparing many, is the one you should buy.

The majority of wines in the market are fined and filtered. They look brilliant and are free of sediment, but filtering diminishes the taste. Today, some wineries sell unfiltered wines, which may look a little “ dull “ in colour, but have more intense taste.

Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu

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