Wine tastings are a fascinating journey through different tastes and aromas that lie hidden in every bottle of natural wine. It is also clear that wine tasting with natural wines becomes a real adventure that challenges our senses and takes our perception of pleasure to a whole new level. There is much to discover! No matter if you are a passionate wine beginner or already a connoisseur. In this article we dive into the world of wine tasting with natural wines and would like to give you some valuable tips for an intense and rewarding experience. Unlock unknown pleasure!
➊ The colour analysis in wine tasting
The eye visually enjoys the first sip. We observe colours, clarity and the viscosity of the wine in the glass. Sommeliers call this the "visual examination". You do this best in a well-lit place with a white background.
The colour examination during wine tasting can give us further clues about the grape variety, the degree of maturity and even possible defects.
Is the wine pale, medium-bodied or deep red? Are there signs of cloudiness or impurities? These first impressions can provide information about the condition and quality of the wine.
Look for reflections or shades. Are they violet, ruby, orange or brownish? This can indicate the maturity of the wine and any ageing processes.
Wines with young, intense colours often have purple edges, while mature wines tend to have brownish edges. In addition, the viscosity of the wine can be observed by swirling the glass and watching the wine flow down the walls. A high alcohol content or an increased sugar concentration can lead to a thick "streaking" effect.
With heavily filtered wines, you often see a flat aspect - nothing shimmers and everything looks pale, almost like neon-coloured water. This is also visually boring.
Well-made natural wines are different because they do not undergo any oenological colour enhancement or manipulation - nothing added, nothing removed. Natural wines are also clear, but have a completely different effect. The colour has a vivid vitality, with a shimmer that probably comes from subtle microparticles in the liquid itself.
➋ The right nose in wine tasting
Your sense of smell plays a crucial role in wine tasting to pick up on the different aromas and nuances. Our nose provides us with a wealth of information that helps us to judge the character, maturity and quality of a wine. There are different approaches to using the sense of smell in wine tasting.
A first approach is to first smell the wine in general, without paying attention to specific aromas or scents. This is to capture the first impression of the wine. Is it fresh, intense, subtle or perhaps even flawed? This initial assessment can give a rough indication of the quality and condition of the wine.
Identifying the different aromas: This involves recognising different scents that can be associated with different fruits, flowers, spices or other elements. It is helpful to have an aroma wheel or list at hand to explore the different possibilities and describe what is perceived in the wine.
Development over time: A wine can open up in the glass and develop new aromas the longer it breathes. Therefore, it is useful to smell the wine briefly at first and then again and again at intervals to note the changes in the bouquet. This makes it possible to assess the wine's evolution and grasp its complexity.
Another effective method is to compare the perceived aromas with known reference aromas. This can be done by drawing on experience and memory. For example, if one recognises the smell of citrus fruit in a wine, one can try to compare this smell with the smell of fresh lemons or grapefruits.
It is important to note that the sense of smell is individual and can vary from person to person. Everyone has a unique olfactory memory and perception. By tasting wine regularly, you can improve your skills and develop a finer sense of aromas and nuances.
➌ Aromas and flavours in wine tasting
In classic wine tasting, the aromas of a wine are examined separately from its flavours. However, the qualities that distinguish the aromas of a natural wine from conventional wines also apply to its flavours. Natural wine aromas and flavours differ from their conventional counterparts in two ways: variety and temporality.
Natural wines have a greater and different variety of aromas and flavours because spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts has not been displaced by powerful commercial yeasts or compromised by excessive sulphite addition.
Conventional oenology systematically excludes just about everything that does not belong to the fruit and floral aromas and flavours, considering earthy, vegetable or animal components as a threat. Natural wines, on the other hand, offer the rest of life's aromatic and flavour diversity: rain, porcini mushrooms, leather jackets, sweet onions, salt and so on. Natural wines rarely taste and smell one-sided.
The aromas and flavours of natural wines also tend to develop differently from those of conventional wines; in principle, natural wines are alive in the same sense as yoghurt with active culture or kombucha. If the environment changes, they will react! Wines with low sulphite content or without added sulphite can sometimes be fragile or change a lot when they come into contact with air.
As a result, the aromas and flavours of natural wines are often more volatile, appearing and disappearing only to reappear with a new twist. Conventional wines that are stabilised by filtration, fining and the addition of sulphite tend to offer a more monotonous, albeit consistent, wine experience when tasting wine.
➍ The texture of a natural wine
What we call "aromas" are combinations of tactile and olfactory sensations (flavours). To understand the concept of texture in a wine, you should focus solely on its tactile quality. The texture of a wine determines the timing of the development of its aromas, i.e. its rhythm.
Texture includes the elementary taste categories (sour, salty, bitter, sweet), which are essentially tactile sensations perceived on the tongue. The chemistry of a wine affects its texture and also depends on three components that are often drastically manipulated in conventional winemaking: Tannins, yeast and CO2.
Tannins make the tongue mellow. But not all tannins are the same: mature tannins are preferable to green tannins, natural tannins to artificial ones.
It goes without saying that natural wines contain only natural tannins and occasionally tannins created by ageing in oak. The tannins in conventional wines may be artificial or transformed in some way by being kneaded into a pulp by excessive micro-oxygenation.
Ripe natural tannins in a well-made wine move with the grace of a canoe rowing through calm waters. What do such wines taste like? It is best to try mash-fermented white wines, i.e. orange wines that have been aged a little longer on the skins and have a present tannin structure, such as the orange wines from Rebenhof, or Tauss.
Tips and tricks for budding natural wine tasters
Check out the basics and start with classic grape varieties like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Noir and Syrah to train your palate. From light to aromatic and strong to heavy, it's best to get different styles and start comparing.
Write down your impressions and use a wine journal to track your progress and preferences. This helped me a lot in the beginning and after a while it's really exciting to see how the descriptions and words evolve. Your path to becoming a connoisseur!
Wine tastings can also be done with organised tastings by wine associations, merchants or winemakers. You can learn a lot from experienced wine tasters.
The important thing is to trust your own taste. There is no right or wrong, your personal preferences decide at wine tastings.
Our wine tasting conclusion:
Our impressions of wines are mostly based on the experiences we know from previous wines. So to get to grips with natural wine, we first have to unlearn many of the expectations we have of conventional wines. From taste and aroma to colour and the way a natural wine changes or doesn't change after opening the bottle.
Almost every aspect of conventional winemaking today is chemically manipulated to avoid risks in production, to stabilise it for transport and to ensure market appeal. The over-stabilised wines are basically biologically inert - or simply put: dead.
Tasting natural wine is a different experience, with a different aesthetic and approach. You have to learn to appreciate wine while it is still vibrant and alive.
With this in mind, cheers and have fun at the next wine tasting!