IT'S THE WEEKEND: Food and drink - Tasting wine like a pro

Wine tasting is a craft which can leave many feeling intimidated when tasked to be the taster at a restaurant. CARYS THOMAS learns how to taste wine like a pro.

WHETHER or not you know your Chablis from your Chianti, tasting tours can be a fun way to learn how to identify different varieties of wines or at best learn how to fake it.

The art of wine tasting is a process of four elements which include look, smell, taste and the finish. Wine tasting games have become popular for dinner parties and thanks to wine tasting DVDs and books you can now become a connoisseur at home.

Tom Innes, 60, has been a wine merchant for the past 25 years and owns Fingal-Rock, a wine shipper and merchants based in Monmouth. He recommends the Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book so that you can read what you are expected to taste while drinking the wine.

He said: "The best thing to do is to take a grape variety from Europe and compare it with a wine from the New World, say Australia or America. You can compare the Chablis grape variety from Europe with a Chilean Chablis or Australian Chablis.

"You can do this with the Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz but the Chablis is best as there is a very obvious difference."

Mr Innes advises to look at the wine first.

He said: "If it's a young red it is purple and if it's an old red its more the colour of brick. You can put a piece of white paper underneath and look down on top of the glass or put it next to a white background.

"The other thing you can do is to tip the glass and look at the edge of the rim. To see if it has faded or if it is still purple in colour."

The next step is to smell the wine. Mr Innes suggest two ways in which you can do this, either to put your nose all the way into the glass or to swill the glass and then to smell the wine.

He said: "There is a difference. You either get a big rich smell or a delicate smell which is usually in cooler climate wines."

The third step is to taste the wine, to do this Mr Innes suggests swirling the wine around your mouth to identify the different flavours.

He said: "You need to explore the wine, swirl it around your mouth and suck in air to make a noise. If it is a high quality wine you will keep finding more flavours as you swill it around your mouth.

"If the flavour stays the same it is probably going to be a lower quality wine. I call it development in the mouth."

The final stage is to assess the finish. Mr Innes explains that the finish is how long the taste stays after the wine has been swallowed.

He said: "If the wine has a long finish it is a point of quality, a short finish usually indicates a cheaper wine. Wine can have a very delicate finish or a rich full bodied finish."

"For tasting I would recommend a Chablis which is a cool climate wine which is crisp and fresh. I would suggest a Chablis 2005 Pommier which is £11.95."

The Essential Guide to Wine Tasting is a collection of mini master classes on wine, all on one DVD from Stichcombe Productions. Jasper Corbett, top wine expert, with the help of his celebrity students Zoe Salmon, TV presenter, and James Rylands, antiques guru, explore how to differentiate between grape varieties and to learn the easiest way to open a bottle of Champagne.

The guide covers glasses and decanting, identifying corked wine, old and New World favourites, sparkling wine, white wines, rosé wines, red wines and food matching.

South Wales holds numerous vineyards which offer wine tasting tours. The White Castle vineyard situated in Llanvetherine, Abergavenny, first planted vines in 2009 and had their first vintage year in 2011.

They offer a tour of the vineyard which culminates in a wine tasting session. The vineyard is run by husband and wife team Nicola and Robb Merchant who tend to the five acres of nearly 5,000 vines.

Nicola Merchant, 50, who is also a district nurse, said: "The summer season is busier than in winter. The vines have been lying dormant the last few months.

"We've produced around 4,000 bottles over the last three years. We are currently in year four. We have the capacity in year eight to produce 10,000 bottles of wine."

The wine tasting session includes the Pinot Noir 2012, Rondo 2012 and the Sparkling Rose 2011. The Rondo won a bronze award Welsh Vineyard Association Awards in October 2013 for the 2012 vintage.

She said: "We launched the Sparkling Rose 2011 in December last year as it takes much longer to produce than the wine. We are hoping for a larger selection for the 2013 vintage year which should be ready at the end of May."

Tasting usually begins at 3pm and costs £5 per person. The Merchants have six varieties of grapes; three red, the Pinot Noir, Regent and Rondo, white variety, the Phoenix, Seyval Blanc and Siegerrebe.

"The first harvest of the Siegerrebe was in 2013 so we are quite keen to see what that is going to be like. On the tour we point out the grape varieties and then people get to taste the finished product.

"We ask them what aromas they can smell and what it tastes like. You should only put a little bit of wine in the glass to taste with."

She added: "People always go away with wine. The first vintage 2011 white, rose and red have all gone."

The Ancre Hill Vineyard, based in Monmouth, is a family-run vineyard which last year produced 15,500 bottles of wine.

David Morris, 30, wine maker and vineyard manager, said: "We usually get about 4,000 people a year who come to wine taste. We have around 10 acres and 750 vines per acre."

The vineyard is closed for harvest and reopens in April until September. The vineyard predominantly produces Pinot Noir but also has Triomphe 2010, Rose 2010 and Chardonnay 2010.

The Ancre Hill Sparkling Rose 2009 won gold at the Welsh Vineyard Association Awards in 2013.

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