The Art of Observation - Part 1

15 June 2020

“You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear” says Sherlock Holmes to Watson in the famous story A Scandal in Bohemia.

What does this have to do with tasting wine? It is easily explained.

The first phase of tasting is generally referred to as visual analysis, and it goes without saying, concerns the wine as it appears to our eyes inside the glass. In its development, we can further distiguish sub-phases, during which we will focus our attention on specific characteristics of the appearance of our wine:

1. The evaluation of the clarity and transparency of our wine (and, conversely, the detection of defects such as opacity or presence of residues)

2. The definition of the colour and of its qualities (the hue, the intensity and liveliness)

3. The observation of the body of the wine, or rather, the analysis of its consistency by rotating the glass

If we were to taste a fine frizzante (semi-sparkling) or spumante (fully sparkling) we would need to add a fourth point, the observation of the so-called “perlage” (or bubbles) in terms of quantity and finesse.

Each part of this list will be the object of further investigation, but for now we would like to draw your attention to the main purpose of this specific phase of analysis. The visual analysis certainly doesn’t prompt the poetic eloquence that makes descriptions of the olfactory and gustatory profiles of a wine so captivating. In fact, these last usually dominate the scene during a tasting, but that is no reason to consider the visual profile less interesting. It can, in a certain sense, be just as fascinating.

Just think: one single solitary glance can be enough to condition all our successive perceptions, to the point that some experts speak of visual flavour to define the influence that the appearance of a product can have on our perception of its flavour. In fact , numerous experiments have been conducted to demonstrate a similar correlation also at the olfactory level. 

But not only that: visual analysis is a rather compelling exercise as it stimulates our logical and judgemental abilities to the maximum.  In fact the same identical quality can represent an absolute quality or a serious defect, depending on the type of wine we are analysing. 

In this sense, effervescence is one of  the most typical examples – though it falls within the standard parameters of a sparkling wine, in a still wine it represents a serious imperfection. Think too of how our judgement on the clarity and transparency of a wine must equally take into consideration the type of wine we are evaluating. If in a red wine, it is acceptable to find clarity but not transparency, due to the deep intensity of colour, in a white wine the presence of both characteristics is essential to define it as correct.

Observing a wine makes it possible for us to set up that logical structure within which to pigeonhole all subsequent data, creating the framework on which we can finally formulate our judgement


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