The sensory evaluation of red wine happens first with the eyes, then with the nose and finally the senses of taste and feel in the mouth.
CLARITY and COLOR: If you are fond of rubies and garnets, a glass of red wine can dazzle your senses through your eyes. To evaluate, pour a small sample of wine into a clear and proper red wine glass and hold the glass on its side and up to a light. Some suggest you first drink the color of red wine with your eyes. The color of red wine should be pleasing, a brilliant ruby red and never dull. The purity of the color of a fine red wine should be astonishing!
LOOKING AT THE RIM: Using a white background such as a white napkin or tablecloth, tilt the glass at 45 degrees. This will cause the red wine to thin out as it approaches the rim by allowing more light to pass through.
A wine that simply thins out and does not change color or hue indicates a young wine.
If the red color thins out to a deep golden orange color, it indicates a wine that is well aged and peaking.
A brownish orange or brown plum rim indicates a wine that is declining and past its peak.
LEGS: To this day many people falsely evaluate the structure of wine by analyzing the intriguing legs that form on the side of a glass of swirled wine. In reality, all wines that have alcohol have “nice” legs. Legs are simply formed due to a difference in surface tension between the alcohol in the wine and the side of the wine glass.
THE NOSE: The nose of the wine includes an evaluation of varietal aroma, bouquet, oak and off-smells.
The aroma is primarily the particular smell of the grape variety such as the hints of bell pepper in Cabernet Sauvignon.
The bouquet is the odor produced by the yeasty smell of fermentation and the flowery smells of aging.
Oak smells can detract if excessive. When a wine is oaked just right, the nose gets a whiff of vanilla, rather than of a heavy wood. Off-smells may be nutty in nature, hints of sulfur, rotten egg smells, etc.
When varietal aroma, a flowery bouquet, and a hint of vanilla oak all mingle in harmony, the result is a great wine. It is said that the sense of smell is closely linked to memory. Many feel that a great wine with a balanced nose is as sensual and pleasing an experience as you could ever expect form something to drink.
RETRONASAL AROMA: Direct aroma is evaluated by the nose, specifically the nostrils. A richer aroma, called retronasal aroma comes from the mouth when the wine is sipped and “chewed” to fully coat the inside of the mouth. The quality of the wine is evaluated by the intensity and persistence of this retronasal aroma or the long vs. short finish of a red wine. A great wine will continue to unfold both complex aromas and flavors in the mouth for quite a long time.
THE TASTE: Our senses have four tastes components: sweet, bitter, sour and salty. Salty is not a component of a good wine; however residual sweetness, a slight bitterness and a light acidity are all parts of a balanced red wine. Any of them in excess, or missing, detracts from wine quality. For great red wines, a wine needs all three in mildly detectable amounts.
THE BODY: A final component of wine in the mouth is its body, fullness, or mouthfeel. It is said to be difficult to describe but experienced red wine lovers knows when it’s there. Lesser wines feel thin, watery and one-dimensional in contrast. With a great red wine should be velvety-smooth and concentrated, with a huge elongated finish that yields new flavors long after swallowed.