Tuesday, 15 May 2010
Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine and celebrated wine journalist, talks about her craft.


By Jennifer Eagleton and Carol Dyer


We all got a grip on our tongue at our non-wine, wine-education evening with Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine and celebrated wine journalist. Despite being a non-wine, wine-education evening we did have a teeny-weeny tipple, in order to educate our taste buds/eyes and nose about the basic concepts of "really" tasting wine rather than just gulping it down.

What we learnt
As the flesh of most grape varieties is white, it is the colour of their skins which determines a wine's colour. Red wine can only be made from black grapes. White wine can be made from black or white grapes (the skins being removed after crushing and before fermentation). In fermentation, yeasts feed on sugars in the grape juice to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide, and ultimately the flavour of the wine. Wine is best savoured when drinking by first smelling it and then allowing it to remain in contact with your tongue before swallowing.


Colour: The lighter the colour of wine, the cooler the climate of its origin, the less sun in ripening the grape, the less sugar in the fruit and the less alcohol in the finished product.
Intensity: The further away from your nose you can smell the wine, the greater its intensity.
Aroma: Provided by the grape itself. With practice these (and there are many) become distinctive.
Sweetness: The front of the tongue is more sensitive to sweetness. Dip your tongue into the wine, or let it linger on its tip after sipping, to determine its sweetness.
Acidity: Vital to good quality wine. It gives wine its "zest", but a careful balance with sweetness is the mark of a good wine. The tongue is more acid-sensitive on its margins.
Alcohol: Has no taste but helps to carry aromas and flavours. The higher the alcohol strength of a wine, the warmer is the sense in your mouth on exhaling.
Tannins: Present in grape skins. The longer the skins are left after crushing the fruit the greater the body of the wine. Tannins are
polyphenolic compounds that bind to and precipitate proteins.
Bitter flavours of tannins are most strongly tasted at the back of the tongue. Tannins soften with age in a wine.
Length: Determined by the time you continue to taste the wine in your mouth.
Quality: Weighing all the above factors into account in assessing the wine.

Discussing wine
We also learnt how to "say it with confidence" (as well as bluff our way through) talking a about wine in social settings.

See Debra's book: "Tasting Wine with Debra" and her website: for lots more details. Debra's regular column in the SCMP's Sunday Post has informed readers for many years. It will return after summer 2012 and may appear with Wine & Food on a Thursday.