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Different winemaking and aging processes also produce different colours, intensities and textures. More traditional processes where time is not a factor will often result in thicker wines, but there are a lot of wines produced with modern processes that are excellent.
White wines are more difficult to appraise for colour, but the colours are there, ranging from almost clear to a murky yellow.
Its not by accident that our centres for smell are located right next to our memory centres in the brain. Try sticking your nose in a glass of wine and sniffing. Then try swirling it first, mixing air in with the wine and freeing the aroma, and smell the difference.
With enough practice, youll stop smelling just fermented grapes and start smelling things like flowers, oranges, honey, cinnamon, mushrooms, trees, butter. If youve had this varietal or brand of wine before, one good sniff will often be enough to trigger your memory.
You can also detect something of the winemaking process. If it were aged in wood barrels for instance, you might smell the type of tree, or a leathery scent. If its high in alcohol content it might burn. If its high in tannin, it might seem bitter or earthy. If it smells like vinegar or mouldy bread, you might have bought a "skunky" wine.
If your mouth starts to water, you probably bought something youll like.
For an expert, tasting the wine usually just confirms their suspicions, although theres always something in there you didnt pick up.
Take a generous sip and swish it around your mouth and over your tongue, hitting all those sections mapped as sweet, sour, salty and bitter on that picture of a tongue in your science class.
Your sense of touch comes into play here, as you feel how light-, medium- or heavy-bodied it is. You can also tell how much sweetness, sourness, acidity, alcohol, and tannin the wine contains, which should tell you something about where, when and how it was made.
There are over 3,000 grape varieties used for wine, although within each general class there are more popular varietals and blends. Merlot is a type of grape, as is a Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Riesling.
Most of the grapes are more suitable for blends, but the brand name grapes mentioned above can be easily recognized over time.
To amplify the flavours in your wine, try holding a small amount in your mouth and slurping it, mixing the air and wine in your mouth.
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