12 commandments for a top-notch taster

By Gastronomistas

Our friends at Gastronomistas sat down with the Nariz de Oro 2014 winner to discuss the secrets of a proper tasting.


Plenty of people claim to know about wine. Countless, in fact. We all have a friend who swirls his glass like his life depended on it, a cousin who rattles off vintages like football scores or a brother-in-law who talks about obscure appellations like he grew up with them.


We, however, remain skeptical. This is why we decided to turn to a thoroughly trustworthy taster. We're talking about none other than Iván Martínez, the Nariz de Oro 2014 winner. The sommelier, who works at La Tienda Colmado in Medina del Pomar (Burgos), insists that a good wine taster must be “disciplined, modest and discerning.” He goes on to reveal 12 commandments that will allow us to hold our own at a wine tasting.


1.  Experience. “Academic training and reading up on available literature are important. And keep in mind that building up experience is inconceivable without being directly involved in tastings.”


2.  Qualities. “It is important to be persistent, disciplined and to keep an open mind. We should also never forget that we are dealing with a field that revolves around the defining of sensations, which are sometimes difficult to describe.”


3.  First visual contact. “Color, cleanness, brilliance, presence or absence of carbonation... We have to put our eyes to work, because what we see is the first sensory perception we have of a wine. The color of a wine, in fact, is very important: it provides clues about its age, how well it's been preserved, the type of grape variety, the vinification technique of the winemaker, etc.”


4.  Is swirling the glass always necessary? “Yes, because we have to differentiate between a still glass, which allows us to identify aromatic intensity or characteristics, and a moving glass, which reveals other kinds of sensations.”


5.  What role does our sense of smell play? “Here we're entering subjective territory, because every taster has his or her own personal sensory experience and a specific register. I tend to focus on the wine's first impact on the nose, which tells us whether it's clean or somewhat closed; whether it conveys warmth or comes from a cooler climate; whether its primary aromas predominate or it shows signs of aging; whether it has matured, etc.”


6.  We've reached the mouth—do we taste the wine with a small sip or a whole mouthful? “I think it's more interesting to spread out the sips and keep them small to see how the wine unfolds on the palate.  We'll start to perceive different tastes: sweetness, acidity and bitterness, which are the three main taste sensations we'll find in a wine.”


7.  What gives a bad wine away? “Being excessive or lacking. A wine needs balance, regardless of whether it's from a cool or warm region. I would also include wines with excessive oak aging, where the wood has ‘taken over,’ in the bad wine category.”


8.  And how do we know it's good? “This is highly personal, but I feel that I'm in the presence of a great wine when I come across an aroma that is fragrant, elegant and has personality. On the palate, it should be perfectly harmonious, nothing should dominate or stand out, and a unifying thread should lead from beginning to end.”


9.  Is it alright to eat something while tasting wine? “I don't recommend eating while actually tasting the wine. Drinking water or eating a few breadsticks between wines is better, because it readies the palate for the experience of a different wine.”


10.  At what temperature should wine be tasted? “This depends on the wine, but for tasting purposes, it is best to have it at 2 or 3 degrees above the recommended serving temperature. Doing so volatilizes the aromas much more, making it easier to describe them.”


11.  Is intuition important? “Intuition is very important, but sometimes it can play tricks on you. Being wrong doesn't matter, because one learns a lot more from being wrong than right, and that is what is truly interesting.”


12.  Can a wine deceive you? “Often! A wine that has just been opened is completely different from an aerated wine. Sometimes, it is more interesting afterward, but it can also promise a whole lot and then fall flat. Wine is alive and expresses itself in many different ways.”


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