Step 1 – Look for Flavors and Scents
Ignore the oak and tannins for now, and search for the subtle fruit notes instead. What kind of fruit are you tasting? If the wine has a green, bell pepper-like quality, it’s possible that the grapes are underripe. If the wine tastes especially sweet or alcohol-heavy, it’s a sign that the grapes are overripe. A balanced wine will taste like a happy medium between these two: slightly sweet fruit, with some hint of floral or herbaceous depth.
Step 2 – Analyze
After you’ve found the fruit, you can revisit the tannins. Age-worthy wines will have very prominent tannins at the barreling stage that will cause your lips to pucker. However, these tannins should still be relatively smooth on the palate. Very raspy tannins point to a wine that’s a little too overripe.
Step 3 – Explore the Oak
Wine straight from the barrel will naturally smell like new wood or oaky spices. It’s alright if this scent is overpowering in the glass at this stage. The oak aroma and flavor will likely dissipate as the wine matures in the bottle later. What you should look for is a wine that still has some layers of fruit and tannin, in addition to the oak. If you only smell and taste oak in the glass, it may be a sign that the wine isn’t very balanced.
Step 4 – Final Thoughts
This brings us to the last step when tasting wine from the barrel. After you’ve identified all three components, from fruit to oak, go back one final time to see how all of these moving parts relate to each other. Each component will feel a little unrefined and rough, but they should taste like they’re in proportion with each other. A wine that has all oak flavor and virtually no fruit likely won’t improve much over time.
If you notice a flavor seems too prominent, or out of place, feel free to ask the winemaker about it. It’s possible that this is the result of an unusual winemaking technique, or simply a quirk of the vintage. At top estates, winemakers are usually willing to have honest conversations with tasters about the pros and cons of each vintage, and are often more than happy to answer your questions.
Questions? Contact Victoria Antilla
The Northwest Wine Benefit Foundation, DBA Auction of Washington Wines, is committed to supporting the growth and awareness of the Washington state wine industry through a series of celebrated events benefiting our community. We have raised over $63 million since our inception in 1988.
The Auction of Washington Wines is an equal opportunity employer and prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or familial status.