Wine is the product of many influences. The soil in which the vineyard grows, the climate, the particular season, the care of the vines and the skill and decisions of the winemaker all contribute to the end product.
A hot, dry growing season can result in grapes with high sugars and possibly low yields. This would make wine with a high alcohol content and intense flavours, but there would not be as much of it as there is in a rainy year, when the wine could be rather thinner in character.
The winemaker decides exactly when the grapes should be harvested. A few days earlier or later will mean a difference in the sugar content and acid balance. Obviously these will make a difference to the wine.
In the cellar the cellarmaster must decide how long to keep the juice on the grape skins, which strain of yeast to add to start fermentation, whether to allow the must to ferment until all the sugar has been converted to alcohol or to stop the process and leave some sweetness in the wine.
No wonder every wine is different and wine lovers spend so much time tasting and discussing the different vintages and individual products.
How do wine judges taste and assess wines?
Normally wines are scored on a 20-point system. This is made up of three points for colour and clarity, seven for aroma and 10 for flavour and general impression.
The tasting ritual is conducted in three stages, each to assess a particular aspect of the wine.
Hold the glass up to the light and examine the wine for clarity and colour. The wine should be brilliantly clear and attractive, with colour appropriate to its age and variety. Faults to look for are cloudiness or browning in young wines.
Swirl the wine about in the glass to allow the aroma to escape, then hold it against the nose and breathe deeply to inhale the fragrances. What can you detect? The wine should smell pleasantly inviting and typical of the variety from which it was made. Off odours detract from the general appeal. A mouldy or corky smell may be the fault of a single bottle, but a sour, vinegary smell often denotes that the wine has been badly stored or is too old to be good.
Take a good mouthful of the wine, swirl it about in your mouth to coat the interior, breathe in through it – in other words, slurp – and spit out the balance. Wait for the flavour to unfold on the tongue and palate. Balance is the key here. Acidity should be balanced by fruitiness, sweetness by crispness. The overall impression should be of a fresh, complex wine that leaves the palate with a clean, pleasant aftertaste.
Finally, remember that every wine lover’s tastes differ. Just because a panel of judges has given a particular wine a high score does not mean you have to enjoy it.
When you find a wine you really like have the courage to stick to your opinion, no matter what others may think.
The true connoisseur is one who knows what he or she likes, and has the guts to say so.