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How to Distinguish Wine Notes


Wine can be complex, containing many different notes. Do we detect a hint of citrus, licorice, asparagus and oak? See more wine pictures.
Robin Macdougall/Photographers Choice/Getty Images

­We've all most likely seen someone performing an actual wine tasting, whether in person or on TV. First, the person holds his glass by the stem, tilting it up to the light to examine the color and body of its contents. Then he swirls the glass around and brings it up to his face. He inhales deeply, smelling the liquid waiting just beneath his nose. Then, he takes a sip and swishes it around, clearly making several mental notes. After a contemplative moment, he spits the liquid out of his mouth. This last act does not indicate a bad glass, instead it means he's merely trying to distinguish the wine's notes (taste and aroma).

Wine can have a multitude of different describable characteristics as the result of its production. Many factors, such as geographical location, geological conditions and climate affect the taste and aroma of wine. These things are often lumped together and referred to as terroir. While there is no clear consensus in the wine world on exactly what terroir is, it's often thought of the specific characteristics given to a wine because of where and how it was produced [sources: Jono, Grape Radio].

­Therefore, terroir is a big influence on a wine and its notes. They type of soil in a certain area can dictate which grapes can grow successfully. The amounts of sunlight grapes receive con­trols how long they take to grow and ripen. The barrel used to store the wine during fermentation may leave its mark (like an oaky scent from wine stored in an oak barrel) [source: Learn Vino].

With so many factors, it's not surprising that wine can be complex -- containing many different notes. It takes practice and understanding to be able to decipher differences in wine. This article will go through how to use scent and taste to distinguish different wine notes as well as explain some popular aids in learning to do so. At the end, you'll be able to understand some of what that wine taster from above is trying to do as he goes through the wine tasting steps.

Check out the next page to learn about a tool meant to help any beginner in distinguishing wine notes.


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