The first sniff is to detect primary aromas that leap from the wine when it’s first poured. These may be fruity (citric, tropical, orchard fruits or berries – oddly, grapes are rarely detected), floral or herbaceous, and cover a huge spectrum. The swirl allows other aromatics to make contact with the air and into your nasal cavity when you take a second, deeper sniff – you may get buttery, earthy, spicy, leathery or woody notes, or some combination of any of these, which mingle with the primary aromas to give what’s known as the nose or the bouquet of the wine and can give huge pleasure in itself.
Now for the sip to get the body of the wine. Purse your lips and take a large sip, sucking in some air as you do so. Now swoosh the wine all around your mouth for a few seconds while you register all the sensations – close your eyes to concentrate if you wish. The tip of your tongue registers sweetness and salinity, the sides pick up acidity while the back detects bitterness and alcohol. Feel the texture – is it velvety or steely or something in between? Do you feel a dry astringency against your cheeks, something like over-stewed tea? That’ll be the tannins that come from grape skins and stems, and/or oak barrels. What you’re looking for is balance between all of these – nothing should clash or jar against each other. Finally, spit (if you need to avoid drunkenness) or (preferably) swallow the wine and enjoy the flavours as they fade – this is called the length.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to what you taste. Good wine takes you on a journey of the senses, often triggering subconscious emotions and memories along the way, and our experience of it is deeply personal. The pro’s ritual makes you focus on what you have in the glass, and helps to maximise your enjoyment of whatever wine you’re drinking.
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Tesco’s Finest English Sparkling Wine, £21, Tesco
Many big English sparkling wine producers are making own-label wines for supermarkets at competitive prices. This is made by the Balfour Winery with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. A fresh, slightly floral nose with baked green apples in its creamy bubbles – one for celebrations.
The Wine Society’s Austrian Riesling 2022, £9.95, The Wine Society
Riesling is a much underrated grape. Its calling card is a thrilling, lime juice acidity which shines through in this classic bone-dry wine. Pure and focussed with a wet-stone minerality, a perfect aperitif.
Henry Fessy Le Pavillon Fleurie, £15.99, Waitrose
Fleurie is one of the 10 villages, or crus, in Beaujolais that can be named on the label. Made from gamay, Beaujolais’ signature red grape, this has a floral and slightly herbaceous nose with bright redcurrant fruits and a silky texture. Chill for 20 minutes before serving.
Check out our regional wine guides here:
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