After our exclusive tour of the Harrow & Hope vineyards and winery and wine-paired dinner, Tony Laithwaite gave us his top tips on wine tasting.
1. Take your time
2. Stop talking and listening, just taste.
3. Tell everyone else to shut up too. This may cause trouble. But serious, professional tasting is done in soundproofed cubicles. Why? because if you hear a word like ‘blackcurrants’, immediately you’ll start detecting blackcurrants. That's just the way it is.
4. Don't eat chilli or curry beforehand.
5. Don't smoke (although my tasting teacher; the now legendary Professeur Emile Peynaud immediately lit up a Gitane the minute class finished!).
6. Make sure you don't have a head cold and don't be in a foul mood.
7. Don't worry about getting it wrong. There is no wrong.
8. Take a little wine into your mouth swirl it around, let it warm a bit then pause before swallowing to let the aromas waft up to the top of your nose, where most of the ‘tasting’ is done; the mouth just senses, sweetness, acidity, saltiness and astringency. A trained nose can detect thousands of aromas. This is why professionals sniff or ‘nose’ the glass before they taste. I always try and win the respect of sommeliers (impossible, but I have to try,) by never tasting the bit they pour you to taste before serving. I just sniff it. If the wine has a fault - which is the only correct reason for refusing it - a sniff should be enough.
9. Search for what the wine tastes LIKE. There are few wine taste terms. Mostly it's what's it LIKE. A good trick is decide the type of aroma, then hone in.
Is it fruit? Flowers? Vegetal? Woods? Smoke? Mineral? Animal? Fungus? Then expand. If it's fruit, are they red fruit or black?
10. What I mostly do is let my mind go totally blank (something I was noted for at school) then sip and hope something pops immediately into mind. Often it's a memory of an occasion rather than a taste. So then just decode that memory, just what were those aromas in that alleyway in Marseilles?
11. Use a fine, thin glass. I like an outward curving lip on mine. Dartington now make them for me. And it seems others also like the way lipped glasses deliver a thinner film of wine from which aromas escape more easily.
12. Be careful. Be cautious. Prof Peynaud's first lesson was to get us (young wine makers and merchants who fancied we could taste) to try two wines and say which we preferred and why. We all did so. And we all hung ourselves. Both glasses were from the same bottle. We weren't quite so cocky after that.