The word " tasting " is not used with its ordinary signification when referring to wine, but means, in that case, not only the testing of its flavor by means of the gustatory organs, but also a careful examination of the wine in other ways; of its appearance, of its bouquet, as well as of its effect upon the palate; all of which is necessary before a final judgment can be passed on its character, its qualities, and its defects.
Wine tasting is a somewhat difficult art, which cannot be acquired without long practice, and then only by one who possesses a clear eye and very delicate organs of taste and smell. When the last two organs have the requisite sensibility, practice alone is necessary to give them the skill needed in tasting a wine.
It is by frequent tasting, by making comparisons, by the examination of good types, that this delicacy and sensibility of the palate is developed which enables it to detect and appreciate the faintest aroma, flavor, or bouquet, as well as the slightest defect.
Practically the tasting of a wine is, up to a certain point, of more importance than its chemical analysis. Analysis shows us the principal components of the wine and the proportions in which they are combined; tasting tells us whether these components are in proper proportions to form an harmonious whole, or are, some of them, in excessive or deficient amounts; whether the wine has '"seve," bouquet, aroma; whether it is mature or not; whether it should be racked or bottled; what its defects are, its keeping qualities, etc.
Any one can say whether a wine pleases him or not, but only the experienced taster can pronounce with any degree of certainty on the real properties and character of a wine. A good wine may be pleasing to-day and not so to-morrow, on account of slight exterior influences which are dangerous to its stability but may be only transitory in their effects, and the wine may recover and be as good as ever.
In order to make useful deductions it is of the highest importance, in fact absolutely necessary, to be able to appreciate and reflect on the sensations experienced in the tasting. It is not every one who can appreciate the true import of what they perceive, but only those who have trained themselves by long practice.
The experienced taster, when called upon to give his opinion, looks at and attentively examines the wine. He then agitates it by shaking the glass, and, when necessary, places his hand round the glass in such a way as to warm the wine, thus favoring the volatilization of those matters which affect the olfactory organs; he then tastes it
Sometimes the simple agitation of the wine by twirling the glass is not sufficient, especially when the sparkling and bouquet are to be particularly noticed. In this case the wine must be more thoroughly shaken, which is done by placing the palm of the left hand over the mouth of the glass, and then striking the bottom of it forcibly against the knee. This causes the wine to give off its odors, and in the case of sparkling wines its carbonic acid, more freely. The method, writes Ottavi, is not very polished or elegant, but accomplishes the purpose very well.
As can be easily seen the wine taster should preserve his senses, that is, those of smell and taste, with their utmost sensibility; this is only done by avoiding excesses of all kinds, for these in course of time are bound to diminish that sensibility, or to destroy it completely. Thus he must abstain from all highly alcoholic beverages, from strongly salted or flavored dishes, from tobacco in any form, and in general from everything that acts too energetically on the organs of the above- mentioned senses.
Physical indisposition, more especially affections of the nasal organs, the mouth, or throat, diminish or destroy all sensibility of the senses of taste and smell.
The taster should not attempt to give his opinion of more than a certain number of wines at a time, as after having tasted a certain number the senses become temporarily much impaired and incapable of nice discrimination; nor should he judge of a wine after an abundant repast, as the various flavors of highly seasoned or sweetened foods have a great influence on the palate, and prevent it from judging a wine critically.
It is a well-known fact that after eating sweet fruit a wine seems to be rougher and harsher than it really is, whilst cheese, nuts, artichokes, etc., make it appear smoother and more delicate.
With piquant cheese, like Parmigiano and Roquefort more especially, which Grimod de la Reyniere has called "the tippler's biscuit," all wines seem good, or at least much better than they really are. It is also true that strong and badly tasting wines when drunk undiluted destroy the sensibility of the palate; people habituated to these wines end by being unable to find any taste in the fine wines of delicate flavor which are the delight of the connoisseur.
Tasters who are accustomed only to high-class wines, when they taste ordinary or low-class wines are apt to underrate them, if they do not reject them as altogether valueless, though they may be sound and clean tasting.
On the other hand, tasters accustomed to ordinary wines almost always deem the prices paid for high-class wines excessive.
This suggests the importance of habit as a factor in the modifications which the taste may undergo. It may easily happen that the prolonged use of a substance may render the sense of taste obtuse, and that the tongue may become " saturated," as Brillat-Savarin says in one of his happy aphorisms. Thus, when the palate has become habituated to a taste, that which at first was intolerable becomes often pleasing and even necessary. Generally, however, habit educates the sense of taste and renders it acute.
Sometimes a taster is called upon to give an opinin as to the character, the good or bad qualities of a wine of a certain locality or of some particular producer or vineyard; in this case, even though he may be well acquainted with the kind of wine, to be able to give his decision with more confidence, he will carefully provide himself with a wine of the same type as that which he is called upon to judge; he can thus receive material aid by making a comparison.
Naturally, a taster who is used to the wines of a certain locality or country will be more easily able to detect the slightest differences between the wines of that locality, especially those differences in fine wines which distinguish wines produced by different vineyards even in the same locality, and when planted with the same varieties of grapes.
A taster should be very cautious in giving an opinion of a young wine, or of one whose origin is unknown, and of pronouncing on its intrinsic worth; the youth of the wine will often mask defects, which, later, become apparent.
When it is found necessary to taste several wines in succession, it is a good practice to eat a little dry bread between each wine, or to rinse out the mouth with a little fresh water, to neutralize the palate, so to speak. It is always good to rinse out the mouth with fresh water before commencing to taste.
Before commencing the tasting, or rather the final tasting — that on which is based the concluding judgment — the wines should be sorted; for example, if the wines are of the same kind, but of different ages, it is best to begin by tasting the weakest, thinnest, or greenest wines, reserving the maturer wines and those which are more aromatic, smooth, or alcoholic for the last.
The same is true when there are many and diverse wines, as at an exposition. In this case the tasting proper should be preceded by an arranging of the various wines, a thing which is not done at all, or badly done as a rule, much to the detriment of the exhibitors. This selection should be based not on the labels on the bottles, or on the statements of the exhibitors, but on a preliminary tasting; in this way those who are to judge the wines will not be presented successively with different types of wine, with wines of different qualities and ages together, and, as is unfortunately the case, sometimes with defective or bad ones.
There are tasters who are ready at any time to pass judgment on a wine; they will even taste directly after smoking. Their opinion, to say the least, is of little value.
A good taster is not always in condition to exercise his art, and for that reason must sometimes refuse to make a tasting when he does not feel in a state to judge critically.
Here I may appropriately remark that the wine dealer often relies too much on the lack of delicacy of taste on the part of the consumer. He should remember that among his customers there is occasionally a connoisseur, or at least a fairly good taster, who can appreciate the wine at its true worth, and whose opinion is followed by the majority of his other customers.
Without exaggeration, I may say that there is scarcely a person in Italy, connected in any way with wine, who has not been called upon to act as judge in competitions of this kind. I need not say how much harm this has done our national wine industry; I will simply, with Polacci, express the desire that we might see some day in Italy " una vera magistratura enologica," a body of competent men to look after these affairs.
We will now return to our tasting. The forenoon is the time best adapted for wine tasting; the wines are of the proper temperature, a temperature which varies for red wines between 54° and 60° F., and for white wines between 50° and 54° F.; the taster is in good condition, and consequently the tasting may begin.
There should be no bad odors present, and the place in which the tasting(1) takes place should be well lighted with diffused light, not obscurely through a small and narrow window, nor too brightly by the direct rays of the sun; it should be remote from all noise, where the taster can remain quite undisturbed.
It is a fact admitted by physiologists that the senses exercise a mutual influence on one another, so that anything that excites one sense has the effect of increasing the acuteness of the other.
This reciprocal influence seems to be confirmed by the recent researches of Dr. Albertini, who says that the defect of color-blindness is accompanied by a corresponding deafness for certain sounds. Thus, those who cannot perceive red cannot distinguish sol, while those who are colorblind for green are unable to recognize re; to this lack of oral perception is joined the inability to reproduce these notes with the vocal organs.
"The taster," writes Franck, "should be deaf and dumb; deaf, in order that his judgment of the various qualities and defects revealed to him by his senses may be undisturbed; dumb, in order to prevent the expression of a hasty or insufficiently considered opinion."
Every one has noticed how a gourmand will close his eyes in order better to appreciate the delicate flavors of a substance, thus bringing his mind to a proper state of attention by the absence of all other excitement. This will explain the exclamation of the court parasite, who, disgusted with his too turbulent table companions, cried: "Hush! You do not understand what you are eating."
The taster should be provided with a porcelain cup, or with the Bor- delais silver cup, which, however, may be made smooth, and if so, the bottom should be a little raised; this cup is especially applicable to young or blending wines, as it is the best for observing the tint and intensity of color and the degree of limpidity.
There are two kinds of Bordelais cups; one preferred by the sellers, and the other by the buyers.
Naturally the seller tries to show off his wine to the best advantage; for this purpose he prefers a cup with a raised bottom, bright, shining hollows in the sides, and a large rim, on which the rays of light have a pleasing effect. The high rim and the yellowish tint that the maker gives to the silver of the cup concur to improve the appearance of the wine. The buyer's cup, on the contrary, is of silver of its natural color, and without the exaggerated rim, and without anything that might modify the appearance of the product to be examined.
In Bordeaux they prefer a cup almost without border, a kind of plain saucer, having in the center a slight convexity. In this cup the wine appears exactly as it is, without the slightest artificial alteration. Lately the buyers of the Gironde have begun to use the twin cup — that is, two cups joined together with a hinge — by means of which it is possible to have two wines, which it is desired to compare, in almost the same conditions with regard to light.
Besides the Bordelais cup he should have at his disposal glasses of various forms, but all thin and homogeneous. Some should be chalice-shaped, but not too long; some of the shape known as "Bordelais;" some cognac glasses, narrow at the mouth and widening below, that is, truncate egg-shaped. By means of the latter, the bouquet, fragrance, and odors generally can be best perceived, especially when their disengagement is aided by shaking.
Conical glasses, on account of their form, serve very well to judge of the color of a wine, as according to the height in the glass where the wine is examined, there will be a greater or less thickness for the rays of light to traverse.
Between the two extremes the differences of tint ( the gamut of color going from rose to red in the case of red wines, and from white to golden in the case of white wines) is very interesting, and may sometimes give very useful hints.
The different aspects under which a wine can be considered are so numerous, there is such an almost infinite number of possible differences in the various qualities and defects that, have to be considered, that even the most expert taster would find himself in great perplexity without a proper and systematic arrangement of his sensations. To avoid this perplexity he proceeds as follows:
He takes a glass containing a small quantity of the wine; raises it to a level with his eyes, examining it carefully first at arm's length, and afterwards more closely; raises and lowers the glass in order to view the wine from above and from below. By inclining the glass and viewing it in different positions, by giving the wine a rotary motion, making it rise up the sides of the glass, he is assisted in his observations. In this way the taster learns all that can be discerned by the organ of sight, namely: the color or colors, the degree of limpidity, the disengagement of bubbles of gas, and the degree of persistence with which they cling to the sides of the glass.
Its appearance is, to a certain point, a sign of the conditional of the wine; from it the taster receives his first impressions and begins to form his opinion; this opinion is as yet, however, very relative, and rests only on probabilities, as a good wine may possibly wear the aspect of a bad one. "
Thus, though the eye may be pleased, the nose and palate may not be.
The estimation of the color of wine is very important, especially with cutting wines which are to be mixed with others to obtain the type demanded by customers.
The eye having fulfilled its office, it is the turn of the olfactory organs.
The sense of smell resides in the ample nasal cavities, and more especially in the pituitary, the mucous membrane which lines them. Odors, or better, infinitesimal particles of substance, reach this membrane by means of the external organs of the olfactory apparatus, that is, by the nostrils; they may also enter by the internal nostrils, the two openings which put the nasal cavities in communication with the larynx.
Physiologists admit that the sense of smell is not provoked only during inspiration but also during expiration, though in the latter case much more weakly. Thus, Franck tells us that it is during expiration that we analyze the perfumes of wines.
Besides the expiratory movements that we execute, sometimes quickly and intermittently, sometimes slowly, in order to place fresh portions of air in contact with the mucous membrane, the cavities formed by the folds of the mucous membrane are of great aid in the perception of odors, as the air laden with odorous particles accumulates in them, and thus prolongs the impression. The mucous membrane may be more or less sensitive according to its relative state of dryness or humidity, which, as I have shown, are much affected by colds in the head. When too dry the cellules are almost indurated, and when too moist they are separated from the air by a watery layer which prevents their regular action.
As may be supposed from the .foregoing, the sense of smell will receive two impressions, or rather, will receive impressions at two different times, the first before the wine is tasted, and the second when the tongue and palate have almost finished their action; that is, when the taster commences to swallow the wine.
The sensations received the second time are various and very different from those received at first.
The first sensations are those caused by the readily volatile substances that the wine contains, and which are given off at the ordinary temperature of the wine, and without other assistance than the shaking and motion given to it by the hand of the taster.
The second series, which is preceived during or after swallowing the wine, is caused by the substances which are volatilized by the increased temporature due to the heat of the mouth and to the wine being well subdivided" by the tongue, and finally to the action of the juices secreted by the various parts of the mouth.
The taster having thoroughly examined the appearance of the wine, lifts the glass to a convenient distance and inhales the odors which are given off, and which fill the upper part of the glass, sometimes shaking or striking the glass to aid their giving off.
A wine may give off various odors, good or bad. I will treat of both of these when I come to describe the qualities good and bad which a wine may present.
Before proceeding further with the tasting it will be interesting to repeat the observations of Guyot, and of Brillat-Savarin, the " modern epicure," regarding the colors and aromas of wines.
The aroma, like the color," writes Guyot. " is a favorable or an unfavorable, an agreeable or a disagreeable sign; but wine is above all an alimentary beverage; it is well that sight and smell should be satisfied, but it would be puerile and ridiculous to give undue importance to the satisfaction of these two senses, and to found the pretensions of a wine to superiority exclusively on its pleasing effect on one or both of them.
" I make this remark expressly because there are many hosts who have a troublesome habit of insisting that their guests shall continually inhale the odors given off by their wine, and especially insist on their smelling their empty glasses during a great part of the dinner, at the risk of making them die of thirst.(2)
" The connoisseur, like the taster, knows perfectly well the importance of the color and bouquet of a wine, but he knows also that their appreciation should be immediately followed by the introduction of the liquid into the anterior portion of the mouth.
" The color and the bouquet are two introductory notes of a gastronomic theme. Alone they have but a relative value, and give but a partial impression of the whole theme."
Brillat-Savarin, who is an authority in matters of taste, writes, in his "Physiologic du Gout:"
" For my part I am not only persuaded that without the sense of smell there is no complete tasting, but I am tempted to believe that taste and smell constitute but one sense, of which the mouth is the laboratory and the nose the chimney; or to speak more literally, of which the former serves to taste the tangible parts and the latter the gaseous."
Thus, for example, when we eat a peach, the first thing that strikes us is its perfume; when we place it in the mouth we experience a sensation of coolness and acidity which invites us to continue; but it is only when the mouthful is swallowed, when it passes beneath the nasal cavities, that we perceive the perfume, and the peach completes the impression that it should produce. This will explain why the sensations which are usually accredited to the sense of taste are in reality much more complicated than is supposed, and that touch and smell contribute in great part to the complex effect. It may be said that without smell taste would be reduced to very little and its agreeable sensations much enfeebled. Taste and smell combine with and complete each other, and Thomson has very justly defined them as the instruments of a unique sense. It is a well-known fact that if the nose be held whilst tasting a substance we perceive the fundamental tastes, such as sweetness, bitterness, salt, and acid, but all the delicate flavors disappear completely.
We have now arrived at the sense of taste, or, as some call it, the tasting proper. The sense of taste, with its somewhat complicated apparatus, is the one which has the most important office to fulfill; by it we decide whether the wine has the freshness, solidity, strength, delicacy, etc., in short, the qualities required by the most critical taster.
The principal seat of the sense of taste is the tongue, although it seems to have been proved that both the anterior face of the membrane of the palate and the posterior part of the palate are capable of receiving gustatory impressions.
According to the illustrious Professor Lussana, the tip of the tongue is distinguished by its ability to detect the finest gradations of flavor, whilst the posterior part, on the other hand, is distinguished by the intensity of its sensations, and is therefore more impressed by repugnant flavors.
The action of sapid substances in contact with the tasting apparatus is somewhat complex, and is physico-chemical rather than mechanical, as formerly supposed.
For this reason the particular gustatory sensation due to any alimentary substance is felt more keenly when the substance is kept for some time in contact with the tasting membranes, as is the case, for instance, in slow mastication.
This time, however, should not be too much prolonged in tasting wine, or it becomes impossible to distinguish between the many and diverse flavors which a wine presents.
The taster, having now critically examined the wine to the best of his ability, by means of the eye and the exterior part of the organ of smell, must pass quickly to the domain of the sense of taste.
To this end, he slightly lowers his head, carries the glass to his lips, and introduces a sip of the wine into the anterior part of his mouth, where the sense of taste receives its first impressions.
The taster retains the wine in this part of the mouth for a certain time; and in order better to perceive the various flavors that affect this part of the tasting apparatus, he divides and subdivides the wine with the tip of his tongue, or as experts express it, he " breaks up " the wine, in order to increase the surface of contact between the wine and the gums, palate, and tip of the tongue.
As soon as the taster has received a distinct impression of all the sensations caused by the wine in this part of the mouth — that is, of those due to sugar, acid, tannin, etc. — he slowly raises his head, thus allowing the wine to pass to the posterior part of the mouth, when he takes a short breath and slightly gargles; at this stage of the operation he will perceive any earthy, bitter, or mawkish taste, or any taste of wood, cork, etc., that the wine may have; here he will also remark the alcoholic strength or weakness of the wine. The wine is then, so to speak, left to itself and passes into the larynx, the oesophagus, and on into the stomach
As the wine passes down the throat is gives off odors which, as has been mentioned, ascent ot the palate and the internal nasal ducts. The effect of these odors, and therefore of the qualities and defects of the wine, is intensified if the moment the wine is swallowed the mouth is moved as though masticating something.
It has been attempted to measure the duration of certain sensations; i. e., those due to the aromas, bouquets, flavors, alcoholic strength, and the various tastes of wine.
In general these sensations are perceived in the brief space of time of 3 seconds, and their duration varies from 10 to 20 seconds. After the wine has been swallowed all the sensations disappear in about 7 or 8 seconds. In certain special cases the aromas leave a more lasting impression; bad tastes persist longer than good ones. In some wines the aroma can be perceived for 55 or 60 seconds.
The sensation due to astringency is of short duration in fine wines, and is much less intense than in the case of wines made from immature grapes, where it makes a violent impression on the lips and the sides of the mouth, which lasts sometimes for 100 to 110 seconds.
Different bad tastes have different ways of showing themselves; some are noticeable the moment the wine enters the mouth, while others are not perceived till some seconds after the wine is swallowed.
Some moldy tastes do not manifest themselves for 7 or 8 seconds after the wine has left the mouth, but persist for 100 or 140 seconds.
The "gout de ranee" is perceived in from 10 to 15 seconds, and lasts for 50 or 60 seconds. The bitterness of some wines makes itself felt in 4 or 5 seconds, and persists for as much as 280 seconds.
In tasting, it should be kept in mind that certain qualities are liable to variations, according to the condition and age of the wine. The delicacy of a wine, for example, is almost totally hidden when the wine is young; the more so the younger the wine. This is due to certain substances which are proper to new wines, but which, later, are deposited and disappear from the composition of the wine.
Aromas are more or less intense, according to their origin and to the very variable circumstances under which they are formed.
The sense of taste is the final judge, and from its sentence there is no appeal. But how much careful consideration should be used before this judgment is pronounced; what a multitude of sensations must be considered, on all of which this judgment must be based!
The tongue, the cheeks, the gums, the anterior and posterior palates, the larynx, the nasal cavities, and to a certain extent the stomach, all contribute their separate sensations, which must all be taken into account. Besides these, the taster has also the sensations received by the eye and the nose. With all this varied testimony to consider, he should reflect deeply before delivering his verdict. For this reason, the taster, during the tasting and the few moments following, truly solemn moments, should be completely undisturbed by noise or otherwise.
A taster can sometimes conveniently express his verdict of quality by means of numbers; usually those from 1 to 10 are used, and correspond to the following expressions:
The practice of pouring champagne into decanters containing ice cannot be too strongly deprecated. In the first place, it is not wine you drink, but a mixture of champagne and water; and secondly, the temperature is never right, as it cannot be regulated.
Let us add that ice should never be put into wine, for it destroys the bouquet and flavor of the wine, and if it gives a momentary pleasure to the palate by a sense of coolness, it also renders the digestions slow and laborious.
(2) Here Guyot might safely add that these people who are so troublesomely importunate are generally those who have recourse to the addition of artificial aromas to their wines.