Winter 2007





​Eye of the Beholder - Tips on Wine Tasting and Wine 'Seeing'



​by Antonio Mauriello



Let's see... clear, transparent, dark ruby at the core with a pale rim...” We could be analyzing a precious stone, or describing a pomegranate seed. “Intense and aromatic, with pineapple fragrances and persistent notes of mature melon and pears.” We are at the fruit market, immersed in the fragrance of fresh produce. Or perhaps we are just enjoying a cup of fresh fruit salad on a summer evening.


The first description is a visual test performed on a glass of red wine, while the second is a typical description of the scent of a glass of white wine. Wine tasting is no more than the description of what is captured by our five senses when exposed to external stimuli. Wine tasting can also be referred to as “intelligent drinking.” I like to use the expression: “learn how to taste to know how and what to drink!”


We look at, smell, taste, touch and hear the content of a glass of wine to be able to describe it and, most of all, to memorize it into our mind’s “database.” For example, when we smell garlic in the air, our mind immediately reacts. There is something about that smell that generally elicits a strong response in people. Some like it, while others hate it. Personally, when I smell garlic, I imagine it rubbed on a slice of unsalted, toasted bread, with extra- virgin olive oil on top!


Professional wine tasters apply the same method – that is, they build a mental database of the different wines, by associating their smell and taste to something they already know. Even for the untrained wine lover, wine tasting is easy and joyful! Here are a few, simple tips.

  Accenti ART OF LIVING Eye of the Beholder - Tips on Wine Tasting and Wine 'Seeing' Antonio Mauriello

The Pleasure that Comes from Seeing

When I teach wine tasting to beginners, I like to start by having my students taste and describe food. This may seem unusual, but it is some- thing that is definitely easier to do and more easily understood than going straight into an attempted description of a Tokay! And it has the added benefit of immediately putting the students at ease.


When we look at a dish before us, we typically pay attention to the presentation, the portions, and the different components in the dish. We look at their colour and shape, as well. This typically gives us a good indication of the ingredients used to make the dish, the quality of the food, and even the cooking methods! 


Now, let’s transpose this exercise for wine. Let’s start with the bottle. Bottle size and shape differ with the type of wine. For example, the type of glass used for Champagne bottles is usually thicker than that used for regular (non- sparkling) wines. A “metal cage” is also used to secure the cork, which is usually in the shape of a mushroom.


The bottle size can also vary greatly – between a mere 200 ml and 15-litre monsters! The bigger the bottle, the better the wine will age, because less air will come into contact with the volume of liquid, thus slowing down the process of oxidization.


The cork gives us more hints. After opening the bottle, if it is real cork (not a screw-off cap or a plastic cork), observing the end of the cork that was in the bottle gives us indications of how the wine was kept. A wet surface means that the wine was in contact with the cork (this is a good thing!), and that the bottle was horizontal during its cellaring time. A dry surface means that the bottle was resting vertically and that too much air may have been entering the bottle through the cork, causing the wine to oxidize early. The cork may present mouldy or black spots, so be prepared: the wine may smell or taste “corked,” a defect that doesn’t have any adverse health effects. However, it prevents us from fully enjoying what we are drinking.


Finally, we must look at the wine in the glass and assess its clarity and colour. A good wine should be trans- parent and crystal clear. Some wines today are marketed as “unfiltered” to better preserve the true aromatic characteristics of the grapes. These wines can appear veiled or cloudy. In such cases, they are usually clearly labelled as “unfiltered” on the bottle.


Getting Down to Business

The colour of the wine is deter- mined by a number of factors. The flesh of most grapes used in wine- making is colourless. Therefore, colour in red wines comes from con- tact of the pressed grape must with the skins during fermentation. The skins contain pigmented chemical com- pounds known as polyphenols. The two most important polyphenols in wine are anthocyanins and tannins, and both are believed to be healthy for humans if consumed regularly and in small quantities.


To observe the wine, position the glass at an angle, holding it by the stem, and against a white background (for example, a white napkin). The avid wine taster should note the following. Grape variety: each grape has its characteristic colour. For example, Pinot Noir is usually lighter in colour than Cabernet Sauvignon. Grape- growing region: latitude, soil morphology and climate. Wines from cold climates tend to be lighter in colour because of the shorter ripening sea- son. Vinification methods: low yields and long maceration are important for developing depth of colour. The use of wooden vats reinforces colour in whites, as does warm temperature and contact with the skins. Age: white wines darken with age, while reds become lighter and brawnier. An easy defect to spot: oxidized white wines are darker.


In the next issue, aroma, bouquet and olfactory analysis. Don’t miss it! Salute!



Antonio Mauriello was born and raised in Rome, where he received his AIS Sommelier certificate in 1995. He lives in Ottawa with his wife Nina. 


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