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Wine Tastings

To love wine is as natural as enjoying a good meal and, nowadays, there is an increasing number of people interested in gastronomic cuisine and in the pleasure associated with wine tasting. Many people like to open an exceptional bottle of wine on a special occasion. Therefore, there is a growing interest in the price and quality of the wine and in understanding the differences between numerous existing references.

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In the Douro Valley’s world heritage of sweeping landscapes covered with vineyards, being a wine expert requires a great deal of basic knowledge on types of bottles, types of glasses, temperatures, storage and selecting a wine for a particular dish. In order to gain this expertise, you must train certain key senses: sight, smell and taste. Although it cannot replace a complete guide, this is a short introduction to the basics to help you enjoy all of the pleasure that comes with drinking wine.

Wine tasting requires many senses, which means that this art cannot be exclusively reserved for wine specialists. These senses can be trained to perfection to improve your wine tasting experience.

Sight is the first sense that must be employed to discover the wine’s properties: colour (age and tannic structure), hue (tones reveal the age and level of maturity of the wine), clarity (this shows characteristics related to the quantity of sediment in the wine and can reveal the wine’s brightness, its clarity, whether it is dark, opaque, cloudy or turbid), transparency (this shows whether the wine is clear and bright), fluidity (this is the viscosity of the wine, it depends on the levels of glycerol, alcohol and sugar and it can be observed in the wine’s legs or tears that run down the glass) and the colour of the fade that appears at the rim (this reveals the wine’s level of maturity).

The olfactory is considered the most important sense in wine tasting as it is ten thousand times more sensitive than taste. Sense of smell is stimulated by the wine molecules that evaporate and enter your nose or mouth; this is why the temperature of the wine is so important. One way of training your sense of smell to recognise the various aromas (primary, secondary and tertiary) is by using bottles of aromas to help you identify a particular scent in the wine that is being tasted.

Finally, we have taste through which we experience a whole range of retro-olfactory, tactile, thermal and chemical sensations. Our taste buds are distributed along the tongue in various areas and they are particularly sensitive to basic flavours: sweet (at the front), salty (lateral, back), sour (lateral, front) and bitter (back, base of the tongue). The senses that are experienced through taste can be divided into: texture (the sense of contact that allows you to quantify how velvety a wine is, for example), astringency (sense of roughness that reflects tannin balance that comes from the solid parts of the grape or from the wood that the wine is matured in, typical in red wines), acidity (a sense related to freshness and it is fundamental in creating well balanced wines and it influences their longevity) and body (a sense of weight caused by the level of alcohol).

In addition to wine tasting, there are other elements used to maximise your enjoyment of wine: selecting a wine, storing wines appropriately, choosing glasses, choosing decanters and using a thermometer to verify temperatures. All of these elements help you get the most out of your wine.

Wines should be stored in a wine cellar or a place with a relatively constant temperature that ranges between 10 and 13ºC (ideal). This place should have minimal light, which can particularly affect white wines. Humidity should be between 70 and 80%, as higher values can cause corks, labels or boxes to deteriorate and lower levels can cause the cork to dry out. This place should be clean, with good ventilation to avoid smells entering through the cork and affecting the wine. Wines that continue maturing should be stored horizontally to ensure that the cork remains moist as these wines gain sediment that will later need to be decanted.

Choosing the right glass is also part of the ritual of tasting and drinking wine. A smooth glass with no cracks that is clear and curves inwards (to retain the aromas) is ideal. The glass should be large, but it should never be more than one third full so as to leave space to swirl the wine and release the aromas. White wine glasses are generally smaller.

There are other rules to observe when serving a wine with a particular dish. Classic aperitifs include wines with low alcohol content and they should be served chilled. White Porto, chilled Muscatel and dry sparkling wines are ideal. Dry white wines are perfect with shellfish to complement the salty and iodine flavours. Whites are also ideal for fish dishes. Fried fish should be accompanied with a dry white wine with high levels of acidity, whereas as roast fish goes better with a full-bodied, subtle and delicate white. The complexity of red wines means they are better served with meat dishes and depending on the meat, there are different combinations.

Wines have a fundamental role when served with desserts and cheeses. Medium-dry sparkling wines and liqueur wines are excellent options and should be chosen according to their sweetness to create balance and contrast. Cheese is excellent when served with wine as the salt in the cheese complements the wine. Spicy cheeses need light and refreshing wines, whereas more intense cheese, such as goats cheese go better with full-bodied reds or a Port wine.

For those who truly appreciate Port wine and Douro wines there is a whole world of information on wine tasting and you can share your opinions in various specialist forums, such as:

"The Port Forum":

"For the love of Port":

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