The world of wine is easily cluttered with lingo and terminology that complicates, confuse and distracts from the wine itself. Words such as balance, complexity, structure and elegance are commonly used, without further explanation or consideration. We are frequently asked about the use of these words and terms and have chatted to Martin, our assistant winemaker, to help us in answering these questions
Let’s start with what you can see…
Once you’ve poured the wine into a glass, you can tip the glass, holding it by its stem.
What do you see in the colour – is it clear or dull? We, at De Toren, produce Bordeaux-style blends so these wines should be purple and ruby in colour. Wines that are purple and more consistent in colour, are usually younger in age, in other words the wine’s colour at the core of your glass versus the wine at the edge of the glass is similar. The opposite could be said for older wines, which are normally a darker red or ruby colour and more inconsistent in colour when comparing the colour in the middle of the glass to the colour at the rim of the glass. Wines that have been aged for many years and are much older, can even show a brown edge in the wine’s colour.
The colour of the wine also tells us quite a bit about the cultivar. Certain grape varieties are characteristically darker or lighter in colour. A good example is the Petit Verdot variety – it has a very distinct dark and powerful, deep purple colour, where a Pinot Noir for example would definitely be lighter in colour than the Petit Verdot.
Now let’s move on to the smell…
Even before inspecting the bouquet, one will usually swirl the glass. So does this have an impact and what happens during this ritual? Yes, there is a reason for doing so. The main reason is to expose a greater surface area of the wine to air. That is why we always recommend decanting the De Toren wines. The exposure of wine to air releases and opens up the aromas and helps the wine evolve.
What do you smell when you first nose the wine? (Yes, even in wine, first impressions are important!) Which notes do you detect in the wine? Is it fruity, nutty, spicy, floral or woody? These notes can tell you the age of the wine and also allow you to detect the grape varieties. Spicy aromas, (wines where you detect less fruitiness, are usually slightly older vintages, whereas the younger wines tend to smell more of fruit. Some grape varieties also have quite distinct bouquet, for example the cabernet sauvignon of our De Toren Fusion V, is known for the smell of darker berries such as black cherries and blackcurrants, as well as hints of black pepper, liquorice and oak. The merlot, dominating our De Toren Z Bordeaux-style blend, on the other side, is recognizable by the hints of red berries, such as cranberries and raspberries and also a hint of aniseed.
Time to taste!
This is the most important step, to taste of course! Take a sip and swirl it around in your mouth. This gives the wine some time to evolve and also allows all your taste buds to experience the wine.
A wine that is well-balanced won’t have any sharp tangs or tastes that significantly stand out above the rest, i.e. the acidity, tannins, alcohol and fruits or sweetness should be in perfect harmony. All these elements should be present in the wine, but in proportion.
The sweetness of a wine is tasted at the tip of your tongue. The sugary taste comes from the sugar in the grapes, left after the fermentation process has been completed.
Acidity is detected on the sides of your tongue. This is naturally present in grapes and helps to balance the sweetness of the wine. A red wine will have less acidity than a white wine.
The tannins in the wine, you will taste at the back of your tongue and it will have a slight bitterness to it. The tannins derive from the skins of the grapes and the oak barrels used during maturation and once again will help to balance the sweetness and acidity in the wine.
The warm sensation at the back of your throat signifies the presence of the alcohol.
Ask yourself the question – are these elements in harmony, with not one overpowering the other? If so, then the wine is very well balanced.
To determine the depth of wine, you need to discover the layers present in the wine – this is what complexity in wines refers to. Perhaps you detect a hint of nuttiness or liquorice or maybe even cedar and spice. These layers of flavours and their level of intensity can help identify the cultivar, e.g. the Cabernet Sauvignon of our De Toren Fusion V has hints of blackcurrants, whereas the Merlot of our De Toren Z has a distinct raspberry flavour.
You can also determine the maturity of a wine through means of tasting it. The older red wines tend to have more presence of savoury, spicy flavours, where younger wines are generally a bit fruitier.
Let’s conclude with the finish of the wine…
This is the last impression of a wine, the finish. The finish of a wine refers to the length of time the wine stays on the palate after it has been swallowed. Wines with a finish, reaching between 45 – 60 seconds, with powerful flavours still present, are wines of spectacular quality. Wine with a long finish will keep developing into two to three different tastes, ending in something diverse, delicate and very pleasant.
In summary, all these elements should be a harmonious blend and overlap perfectly, the symbol of a spectacular wine and something we always strive to achieve in our range of De Toren wines.