There are TEN golden rules for professional tasting, each one specifically designed to render a valid assessment.
The purpose of wine tasting is to define the characteristics of a wine in terms of appearance, smell and taste. Wine tasting aims to detect certain flaws that make a wine undrinkable but also to provide a detailed description of the wine’s flavour profile in the most objective terms possible.
Too many of the wine descriptions you read these days are purely motivated by commercial interests. The assessment is rushed, the words (though splendid) convey nothing and the rank or grade assigned to the wine does not hold up under scrutiny.
This is not say that « informal tastings » between friends are irrelevant. On the contrary, sampling wines at local wineries can tell you a lot about a brand (whether made by an independent producer or a Champagne House). Never mind that the rules relating to purchase and storage are much more relaxed than in a professional setting. Informal tastings like these also teach you how to express your impressions and share them with your fellow tasters. It’s a useful experience for all concerned — a good opportunity for a ritual of shared pleasure, being careful never to overstep the mark.
Objective tastings are conducted by highly trained experts whose findings are published in wine journals and serve as a guide for potential wine buyers. They are supposed to help consumers choose which wine to buy on a comparative basis. To be objective, tasting must follow a strict, 10-point rule system, as defined below by the Union des Oenologues de France - Région Champagne (French Union of Oenologists - Champagne Region). If these rules are not followed, all objectivity flies out of the window, together with any pretence at honest comparison.
1 - Authentic wine samples Bottles submitted as tasting samples must be purchased by anonymous buyers (posing as ordinary consumers), and only those wines that have been nominated for the tasting can be included among the samples. More specifically, samples may not include alternative wines that are either directly or indirectly "contributed" by the producer or added by a jury member. The sample collection process must be stated in the introduction to the tasting report.
2 - Sample transport and storage conditions are the same as for any wine sold at retail, taking suitable care to preserve the wine’s original characteristics.
3 - The absolute anonymity of samples requires the concealing of all identifying signs on the bottle (volume, graphics), if necessary by concealing the bottle itself.
4 - Bottles submitted for sampling by different producers must be grouped by geographic region so as to enable a comparative assessment of their respective characteristics, especially in terms of terroir, varietal and vintage expression. Samples from the same region must further be subdivided according to type of wine.
5 - The tasting venue must be perfectly adapted to wine tasting events: calm, spacious, with good natural light, an ideal ambient temperature and an absence of any extraneous smells. Tasters must be shielded from all external influences, including the influence of their fellow tasters.
6 - The wine tasting accessories (glasses, buckets, spittoons, etc) must be appropriate for the wine in question and every sample must be tasted at its ideal serving temperature. Bread should be provided for palate cleansing.
7 - The number of wine samples tasted per day or half day is strictly limited (as stated in the introduction to the tasting report), always aiming to remain within the comfort zone of the taster.
8 - Tasters are selected on the basis of their ability to deliver a reliable and objective assessment of wine. Their respective identities and professional credentials are disclosed in the tasting report. Their observations must be recorded in writing so as to contribute to the jury’s final, overall appreciation of each sample. Their assessments must be based on sensory evaluation not on some supposed hierarchy of samples — an admittedly tempting but simplistic solution that only serves to confuse the issue. Worse still, it effectively dispenses with the need to define the characteristics expressed in a wine, whether driven by the terroir, the varietal, the vintage or any other factor.
9 - The tasting panel must consist of at least five members, including one who serves as chairman and who is responsible for summarising the opinions of the panel members, stating whether the members were unanimous in their opinions or disagreed on certain points.
10 - The results must be prefaced with details of the terms and conditions applying to the wine tasting, stating whether these requirements were met in full or only partially. Any compromise in this respect will entirely forfeit the credibility of the tasting’s conclusions.
Union des Oenologues de France - Régio