Over many years in the wine trade I have been lucky enough to participate in an enormous number of organised wine tastings. Whether it be at wine fairs, in tasting competitions or even just to find a wine that I wanted to buy, there was one important rule that I always tried to obey…. tasting any comprehensive selection of wines in the correct order.
Now, you may not view this as a major issue, but I should tell you that it can make a significant difference and may inadvertently dictate the wine that you single out for special note.
With bottled white wines I always like to start with the oldest wines first, and gradually work my way on to the younger wines, and there is a very simple reason for this. Take our Albariño as an example – it is generally enjoyed as a young, clean, fruity wine, with a fresh acidity. Tasting a young Albariño first and then following with an older vintage might easily give the second wine (no matter how good), an appearance of being a little tired, or possibly even oxidised. Actually more of an olfactory illusion than a true comparison.
As an aside, this rule of ‘young and old’ can actually be carried through to the pairing food with wine. The privileged few may consider drinking Champagne with dessert, which may give rise to a small but significant problem – if you are enjoying a dessert of fresh fruits and you are lucky enough to be quaffing an older, vintage Champagne, then this too might appear a touch oxidised when tasted alongside the fresh, youthful fruit. By contrast, a vibrant, young Spumante, or even an off-dry Lambrusco might actually make a better pairing, and could be considerably cheaper too! (Please note that there is some very good Lambrusco on the market).
A similar type of rule applies to sweet and dry wines. Tasting a sweet wine first, and then moving immediately to a dry wine can give the second glass an appearance of being a little thin, and possibly a bit harsh, by comparison to the lush mouthfeel of the former. This can be further exaggerated if the second, dry wine also has a slighter higher acidity.
As you may now begin to understand, the order of tasting in a wine competition is of paramount importance, especially if you bear in mind that in nearly every case the judging is conducted completely blind. If the ‘flights’ are not arranged in the correct order, then your precious wine sample might easily be eliminated for completely the wrong reason.
Taking this a step further, there are other variables that should possibly be taken into account – temperature, for example. Whilst it is true that any red or white wine tasted at room temperature might highlight any potential faults, in some circumstances it can actually be quite damaging. Tasting a meaty, full-bodied red wine that is too warm serves merely to exaggerate the alcohol, and might render the sample flabby and unbalanced. Too cold, and a young Bordeaux will show all its mouth puckering tannins, and not much else, although it might also appear hard and metallic.
Finally, we have sulphur! At the moment of bottling the winemaker might well ‘fine-tune’ the amount of sulphur added, in order that the bottle enjoys an optimum shelf-life. It is therefore not uncommon to find a recently bottled wine that has a slightly elevated level of sulphur. In the long term this will no doubt be of benefit, but in the short term it can easily render the bottle a little dumb, or at least not very expressive. To be honest an average consumer would not be expected to recognise this, but suffice to say that it might just taint his or her experience of a potentially great wine.
Now who would want to be a professional wine taster?