By Vinously Speaking aka Veronique Cecilia Barretto
Simply Wine, by Heidi Yorkshire, is a great wine book in which she shares an adaptation of a wineless wine tasting exercise devised by Tim Hanni of Beringer Wine Estates that involves learning about wine through a tea tasting exercise!?!
So first off … why tea?
Well, tea shares many similarities with wine. They both possess varying and complex aromas. These aromas vary depending on the tea leaf variety, the way they are harvested, and the way they are processed. Tea offers varying levels of tannins just like you find in red wine. The tannins in teas come from the tea leaves and red wines come from the grape skins/seeds/stems. Teas, just like wine, also expresses terroir … aka the distinctive aromas and flavors that reflect where the tea leaves were grown. There are also similarities between the tasting processes of wine and teas. And can you believe there are even tea-tasting suggestions for oenophiles!
So what will this exercise teach you?
This exercise will help you to recognize some of the “basic building blocks” of wine: tannin, sweetness/fruitiness, acidity, and texture. Notice I say ‘recognize’ … please don’t think this exercise is for wine-novices only, it is extremely useful for wine savvy folks as well! For many, using tea instead of wine better highlights these four basic building blocks and helps you recognize them easier when wine tasting.
What will you need?
2-3 teabags of black tea 4 teaspoons granulated sugar fresh or bottled lemon juice 1-2 tablespoons heavy cream or half-and-half 4 wine glasses 1 glass of water 1 cup (for spitting) 1 napkin
Once you gather all your ingredients, now follow these steps: 1. Boil 2 cups of water and then steep all four teabags in this water to brew a VERY strong tea (+/- 20 min). Let it cool to room temperature.
Pour 1/2 a cup of this strong brew tea into each of the four wine glasses.
Set the four glasses in a row, and think of them, from left to right, as 1, 2, 3, and 4. (You can number a piece of paper and place a glass on each number if it makes it easier to not mix them up).
Add 2 teaspoons of sugar each to glasses 2 and 3, stir until sugar dissolves. Keep the lemon juice and heavy cream handy as they will be used later on.
Let’s start by tasting Glass 1: Tannins
Take a swig of tea from Glass 1 and swish it around in your mouth before swallowing (or spitting it out). Now run your tongue mouth over your teeth and along the roof of your mouth. Do you feel a gritty, puckery, sandpapery, sensation? Do you feel like the moisture in your mouth has been sucked out? Do you taste a slight bitterness on the back of your tongue? Congratulations! You have just experienced what we in the wine world call tannins. Tannins, which are found in strong tea, are also found in the skins, seeds and stems of wine grapes. Tannins in wine vary depending on how long the grape juice is in contact with the skins, seeds, and sometimes stems in the early stages of the winemaking process. Tannins can also vary among grape varieties, some being more tannic than others.
Moving on to Glass 2: Sweetness
Take a swig of tea from Glass 2 and swish it around in your mouth before swallowing (or spitting it out). What do you taste first, the sweetness or the tannin? The strength of glass 1 and glass 2 are the same, but can you tell the difference the added sugar makes to your perception of the tannins? Take another mouthful and try to pick out the two sensations, the tannins and the sweetness. Does one over power the other? What about the after taste? Some dry wines may have little to no sugar in them, but some might give the impression of sweetness via the various fruit aromas found in the wine such as berries, flowers, vanilla or butterscotch. Humans generally interpret ‘fruity’ or ‘baking’ aromas’ as “sweet” because we have learned to associate the aroma of fruit or baking ingredients with the taste of sweetness or desserts. Next time you are tasting a wine, can you tell if the wine is ‘sweet’ or if it just perceived as having some ‘sweetness’ because of the fruitiness or baking spices on the nose.
Moving along to Glass 3: Acidity
Squeeze a couple teaspoons of lemon juice into Glass 3 and stir. Now take a swig of tea from Glass 3 and swish it around in your mouth before swallowing (or spitting it out). Does the addition of the lemon juice make the tea taste sweeter than Glass 2? How has the addition of the lemon juice change the way you perceive the sweetness of the tea? Acidity in wine gives it that zing and zap, the crisp and fresh, and helps to balance out the sweetness in a wine and because of this you most likely found that Glass 3 doesn’t seem to be as sweet as Glass 2. A sign of a well-made ‘sweet’ wine is one where a fresh acidity cuts through the sweetness and cleans off your palate to help you appreciate the next sip. If you have ever heard someone say that a wine is ‘too sweet’, this is usually what they mean … that there is not enough acidity in the wine to keep it from being a cloying kind of sweet. Keep in mind though that too much acidity makes a wine taste thin and too sour. (Try squeezing more lemon juice in your tea to see what I mean).
Moving along to Glass 3: Texture
Pour a dollop of heavy cream or half-and-half into Glass 4 and stir. Now take a swig of tea from Glass 4 and swish it around in your mouth before swallowing (or spitting it out). Can you tell how different this glass tastes and feels from the previous ones? Wines can express different physical sensations like creamy, smooth, sharp, rough, big, velvety, prickly, thin, etc. This particular glass is meant to show you what a creamy texture found in wine is like. Now, winemakers don’t actually put cream in a wine to make it creamy, but rather creamy wines are ones that have most likely undergone a second fermentation process called malolactic fermentation. “Malo”, as we wine folk like to call it, is the process of changing tart-tasting malic acid (found in grapes, apples, rhubarb, etc.) into softer-tasting lactic acid (found in dairy products). So next time you taste a creamy wine, you can be all wine savvy and ask if it has undergone “malo”.
And there ya have it folks …
You have learned the four basic building blocks of wine … by tasting tea! Now go open up a bottle of wine to celebrate your accomplishments.