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Alcohol, Flavors, and Finish

This lesson is a part of an audio course Wine Course with an International Expert by Matteo Girardi

In our previous lesson, we learned how to detect tannins and body in a wine.

In this lesson you will start to learn how to detect alcohol, flavours, and finish in a wine.

The first clue about the alcohol is when you swirl the wine in your glass.

When you swirl the wine in your glass, you should notice arches forming on the glass. This could be an indication for the level of alcohol in the glass: more arches mean probably more alcohol.

In lesson number three we called this effect “Gibbs Marangoni effect”.

But to correctly assess the alcohol, you must also taste the wine.

You can feel alcohol on the middle of your tongue where it gives off a hot or warm sensation, because the alcohol can trigger your pain receptors.

But this warm sensation can be confused with the sensation caused by acidity.

Whereas if you detect viscosity, this tingling sensation is caused by alcohol, not by acidity.

Most of the wines have a level of alcohol between 11,5° and 14°.

But some can have level of alcohol more than 14°, think for example of the Amarone, which sometimes reaches up to 16,5°.

Some wines have a level of alcohol lower than 11.5°, like some German Rieslings.

The fortified wines, of this category, about which we will talk in the next course, have extra alcohol added to them. The Port from Portugal is a classic example.

To be able to detect the right level of alcohol in a blind tasting is always a challenge, sometimes because the high alcohol is fully integrated with the rest of the wine and it is not easy to detect.

Because of global warming the level of alcohol is generally rising, because if the climate is warmer, the grapes have more sugar, more sugar means more alcohol in the final wine produced during the fermentation.

What about the flavours in a wine?

The flavours on the palate generally follow the aromas on the nose: what we find on the nose, will probably also be present on the palate.

When we taste a wine, we still smell via the oral cavity that is at the back of the throat. This is called “retro nasal olfaction”.

Fruity and floral flavours are sometimes not so easy to detect on the palate like on the nose.

Whereas the warming effect in your mouth can make some characteristics more apparent than just identifying them through your nose, this is the case for example of the earthy, spicy, and toasty aromas.

Always remember to keep the wine in your mouth for some seconds, do not spit it immediately, so that the wine can warm up and release more volatile aromas.

It is fundamental to spit a wine when you taste wines professionally, because to drink many wines without spitting them, could be risky for your health.

The last part of this lesson is about the finish, or length of a wine.

When you taste a wine, the finish is how many sensations you will still have in your mouth, after you have swallowed the wine or spat the wine out. How much time these flavours and sensations linger is an indication of quality.

When you assess the finish, you should consider only the sensations that are desirable. For example, if after you had swallowed the wine you still have a very lingering bitterness, this is something that you do not want.

If you compare one simple inexpensive wine with a premium wine, the pleasant flavour will disappear after a few seconds in the case of the simple wine.

In the premium wine, it will last for many seconds and they will be pleasant.

Your task for this lesson is to buy two wines. The first should be a simple, inexpensive wine and the second a wine of particularly good quality.

Try to find two wines that are different also in the level of alcohol, the simple one around 12° and the premium one around 14° or 15°.

Pour the two wines in two glasses and try to recognize the level of alcohol in the two wines, thinking of what you learned in this lesson.

Then compare the two wines for the finish.

The simple, inexpensive wine will have a short finish.

The few pleasant flavours will disappear in a short time.

The premium wine will have a much longer finish, and much more complexity in different clusters of flavours.

In our next lesson, you will learn to assess the quality of a wine in a critical way, without thinking of your personal taste.

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Written by

Matteo Girardi