Part Two - Returning to the Basics for examining Wine

In my last article, I covered the first half of my procedure on how I taste wine.  Even though there are small details I’m most likely forgetting, I’m giving you the core of what I look at in a glass.  My goal always (including the website’s goal) is to teach you about beverages.  I want you to be able to analyze any beverage and then be able to use that knowledge for food pairings.  However, in order to get to that level, we need to be able to look at a beverage’s components.  Let’s focus on the second part of finding out what’s in the glass.

When we review the tasting sheet, we covered the aromatics to the aromas that are present in the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2022.  Now, we can move to the section on Taste.


Under the section of Taste, we have the area for Sweetness.  When I taste any wine, I check to see if there is any residual sugar.  This can be found at the tip, on the top of your tongue.  It’s not really a sensation that I get but more a comparison of memories.  For example, If I offered you a glass of unsweetened iced tea,  it has a level of sweetness that you can imagine.  I would classify unsweetened iced tea’s level as Dry.  Dry gives the sensation of absence (like something is missing) but it’s on the tip of your tongue.  If you feel it anywhere else on the palate, it’s most likely tannin.  We have all had a strong dark iced tea that feels like your teeth are coated…that’s tannin.

If you look at the table, you can see the range from dry to luscious (Think ice wine).  Most white wines can range the entire chart.  In the case of the Sauvignon Blanc, I rated it Off Dry.  It did not give the drying sensation like the Iced tea example as you can detect a hint of sweetness. 

As for red wines, most fall into the Dry to Off Dry areas.  There is a good reason.  In order to  extract the color from the grape skins, these skins need to sit in the grape juice during fermentation.  Most wineries will ferment their reds completely dry to maximize alcohol levels while extracting the most amount of color possible. 


Acid is important to understand.  More and more for pairing purposes, we are looking at acid levels in our dishes for balance.  In the same way, acid needs to be in harmony in the wine as it does provide structure.  Can you picture an apple without acid?  It would be too sweet and almost feel flabby on the palate. 

When I’m examining for acid, I refer back to how much saliva is being produced after I taste the wine.  I will take a sip, swirl it around and then swallow it.  I wait a few seconds and then I focus on what my palate is feeling.  A high acid wine will cause your palate to produce high levels of saliva quickly (as in rinsing the palate clean).  The more saliva produced, the higher the acid levels.  A low acid wine will produce little saliva at all and not have the same effect.

With practice, you can tell what level it is.  Milk on the palate is low acid as compared to sucking on a lemon or lime which is high acid.  In the Oyster Bay example, there was a ‘big pop’ of saliva production right after the sample.  This is a high acid wine (normal for this grape variety and region).


I mentioned tannins earlier in the article.  Tannin needs to be looked at in two areas:

Grape tannins are produced from pressing the grape skins and seeds.  Picture chewing on the skin of a grape (if you have never done this before, it’s a great learning aid).  After a few seconds, you will get a pucker sensation all over your palate.  Remember this sensation as it’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.

Oak tannins comes from the wine being exposed to oak in some fashion.  Oak adds unique flavors and aromas to wine to add structure and character.  Several ways that this occurs are:

  • from fermentation in oak barrels,
  • storage in oak barrels, or
  • chunks of oak are added into the vat during fermentation.

My description for finding oak tannin involves under the tip of your tongue.  If a wine has been exposed to oak, you will feel the sensation of a buzz under your tongue.  This is similar to the buzz from a  9-volt battery which we used to test as kids (Highly Advised that you Do NOT Do THIS).  Over the years, I’ve been able to distinguish the buzz into the type of oak used and how long the wine was exposed to oak.

For the Oyster Bay, there is a low amount of grape tannin but no oak tannin exposure. 


Lastly, what everyone is concerned about are the flavors.  I know that this is the most exciting part and what we all look forward to.  However, there is one important fact that you need to know before we proceed.  Earlier, we examined the aromas in a wine.  Please remember this important fact:

  • Just because you detected a particular aroma in a wine does not mean that the wine will have that particular flavor.

In most cases, a wine’s aromas and flavors will match.  For example, in most Sangiovese, you will smell and taste sundried tomatoes (hence why it works amazingly with tomato sauces).  However, I can never assume that this is the case as sometimes you will not find one in either area. 

The procedure is the same one that I use for aromas.  Yes, the dreaded bell curve makes a reappearance, but it works in the same fashion.  I will taste the wine and look for all of the changes that occur on my palate.  I may not know what the actual flavors are, but I know that a change has taken place.  I count these and attempt to pick out the most dominant flavors (at the top of the curve).  I will choose one and go through the same procedure as I did for the aromas. 

  • Does this flavor remind me of something Citrus?
  • If yes, I go down the list to attempt to focus on what it could be.
  • If not, I move to the Tree Fruit category and ask the same question.

Eventually, will be able to locate all of the flavors I detected.  Again, it’s a series of questions that I’m asking.  This takes some time to get used to.  However, since I focus on this procedure daily with all beverages, I can run through the questions quickly.

You can see from the chart that Oyster Bay has several flavors.  However, if you compare the aromas and flavors, you can see that they are not all the same.  There are some aromas that are not found in flavors (bell pepper) and vice versa (grass in the flavor area).

Final Thoughts

I hope this helps give a bit more insight to how my mind works when evaluating wines.  The procedure is easy and takes practice to learn (which means you get to sample more wines). However, I tell everyone that I teach to do two things:

  1. Every beverage you try, evaluate it for aromas, tastes, and flavors just the same as wine. This gets you in the practice of doing this and trains your mind to look for components.
  2. Relax and enjoy the process. To me, it’s a learning opportunity to smell and taste something (even if I’ve had it before).

Write me questions and let me know your thoughts as I always want to help you learn.

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