(Editor’s Note: This piece was published in the November 10, 2013 issue of Hospitality News Philippines. To reach the managing editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wine is not like soft drink, iced tea, or even beer that are normally gulped like water. Doing this to wine will deprive it of its intrinsic qualities such as its alluring color, inviting scents, complex taste, and the nice lingering aftertaste. That is why non-wine drinkers may find it strange seeing wine lovers doing the following: holding their wine glass up in the air and gazing blankly at it, incessantly swirling the wine glass, constantly smelling the wine, or and even making those irritable gargling sound in their mouth when drinking the wine. These are actually steps being done to fully appreciate the wine, and can easily be summarized as the 2S3T approach. The 2S3T stands for Sight and Smell (the 2Ss), Taste, Touch, and Totality (the 3Ts) – in this correct step-by-step sequence. Let us examine each step.
The first S refers to how wine looks when poured into the glass. This starts with the pouring of the wine from its bottle into a stemware glass. Pour the wine no more than two-thirds full (less if the glass is bigger in size). Then hold up the glass by the stem, against the light or an immovable white background to determine the color of the wine. Here we look at color, hue, shade, clarity, and even age of the wine.
For white wine, colors range from pale yellow, straw, dark yellow, yellow-green, to even bright gold. The darker the color, turning to more amber or brown color, the older the wine is or shows sign of oxidation. This oxidation is either natural if wine is five years or older, or prematurely oxidized if the white wine is stored in bad conditions.
For red wine, colors range from bright ruby, violet, garnet to very dark, almost black brooding red. The older the red wine, the more the luster of the color fades and becomes dull. An old red wine can turn dark brown and very close to brandy like in color. It is also in this Sight process that accidental cork (when being opened) droppings are detected.
The second S is what wine professionals call the “nose” of the wine. This next step involves swirling your wine glass and putting the glass just a few millimeters under your nose. Whiff, sniff, and smell the wine a few times, stopping every time to re-swirl the glass. The swirling part allows the wine to aerate to bring out aromas that has just escaped from bottle after months to years of cellaring. A good wine will have many different aromas, evolving with new scents, and differing in intensity levels, with every new swirl.
On the smell side, the two most common wine terms heard are aroma and bouquet. Aroma refers more to the inherent qualities of the wine varietal or the grape fruit itself. For example, a Chardonnay can have lime, lemon, and peach flavors or scents. While Cabernet Sauvignon may have the black currant and red berry flavors. Same as a Gamay being very floral, a Syrah or Shiraz (as in Australia) being like flambé fruit, and a Merlot being more earthy and cherry in flavor. These are, in other words, inherent to the grape varietal’s individual DNA.
Bouquet, on the other hand, has more to do with “winemaker” influence or external factors. For example, when a wine is described as oaky, the wine must have been on oak barrel aging. If a wine is described as “buttery” or creamy, the wine must have gone through malolactic fermentation or secondary fermentation where the harsh malic acid found in grapes are transformed into friendlier lactic acid. These are processes made by the winemaker. The bouquet descriptors include chocolate, toffee, cinnamon, and others. Bouquet also refers to the developed aromas over a period of time or when wine is aged longer. When you rest your wines in optimum condition over time, aroma intensities can become more subtle, and some evolve to new scents altogether, and those are under bouquet.
The first T comes from the first sip of the wine. Like our detectable taste senses, it refers to sweetness, sourness, and bitterness. There is no saltiness in still wine, although saltiness can indeed be detected in fino sherries from Jerez, in Andalucia, Spain, which is a very pleasant experience.
Sweetness comes from residual grape sugar, sourness from the natural grape acid, and bitterness from the grape skins, stems, and seeds. In wine jargon, we refer to un-sweet as dry. Dry means “absence of sugar”. When wine is sour, we say wine is acidic, while when wine is bitter, we normally say wine is tannic. Acidic wine refers to white wine majority of the time, while being tannic is described on red wine almost exclusively.
Filipinos are notorious for having a sweet tooth, from juice drinks that are almost syrupy in sweetness, with less fruit flavor, to adding too much sugar to our coffee, and so on. So, when we first try wine, even the sweet ones, we normally hardly detect the residual sugar. Remember in wine, 1.5 to two percent residual sugar is already considered semi-sweet. So when drinking wine, let us try to let our taste buds be a bit more conscious of the sweetness. The majority of wine, unless specified as late harvest, dessert, or of similar claim written in the label, are normally in the semi-dry and dry range. Most New World wines are in the semi-dry bordering semi-sweet area, while most of Old World wines are drier in style.
The second T is contextual to wine, as it is neither tactile nor physical touch. Touch refers to the mouth feel and the finish of the wine. After merely sipping the wine in the last step of taste (the first T), here you take in a generous amount of wine in your mouth. You let your tongue touch the wine by moving it side to side in your mouth. This is to get the mouth feel. Normally, the uninitiated would mistake wine practitioners or genuine wine lovers of gargling their wine and making those almost unbearable and unsophisticated noises before swallowing. From the mouth feel, you should be able to detect the wine’s body, whether it be light-bodied, medium-bodied or full-bodied. A full-bodied wine is tantamount to the texture of a creamy milk, which is thick and viscous, while a light-bodied wine is closer to the texture of water, and anything in between are variations of medium. After the mouth feel, and when the wine is finally swallowed, we get the finish. Here, we try to get the length of the finish, whether it is a fast-finisher, a few seconds lingering finish or a long “almost-always at the edge of your mouth” unending type of finish.
It is the final and third T. After going through the sight, smell, taste, and touch, you have to judge the wine on its balance, coherence, consistency and overall quality. Note that if a wine smells great, but tastes bitter or bland, it may get some elements right, but the rest wrong, it can’t be all that good in its totality. What you want is a wine that looks, smells, tastes, and finishes well – all integrated and balanced. In wine competitions, each of these elements is given a corresponding weight in points.
For a 10 point mass system, the normal assigned weights are: 1 point to sight, 3 points to smell, 2 points to taste, 3 points to touch and 1 point to totality. Example, for a three-year old Barossa Shiraz from South Australia, here is how your 2S3T notes may sound like: “Dark ruby color, powerful nose of flambé raspberry, integrated oak, semi-dry, full bodied, with grainy texture and long spicy lingering finish at the end; a wine with great depth that can improve further with patience of longer bottle aging.” This is also the kind of notes you will read from the different wine authority magazines like The Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, Decanter, etc. etc.. With enough wine drinking practice and a lot of vivid descriptors, everyone can speak the wine expert language!