Introduction to Wine Tasting: Unraveling the WSET Systematic Approach

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT) is a structured and disciplined method of tasting that helps you evaluate and describe wines accurately and consistently. It is designed to enable a taster to assess a wine's quality and character in an objective manner, regardless of whether it suits their personal preference. This will be the first thing you learn in your WSET level II course at Onshore Cellars.

The WSET SAT is typically divided into three primary components: Appearance, Nose, and Palate. Each component is assessed based on various aspects:

1. Appearance: The appearance of a wine provides the first set of clues about its character. In this stage, tasters examine:

  • Color: This can indicate the grape variety, age, region, and even the winemaking practices. For example, a deep color in a white wine may suggest the use of certain grape varieties or oak aging. A red wine that's turning brick or brown in color might indicate that it's mature.

  • Intensity: This refers to the depth of color. A pale intensity could suggest a cool-climate origin or a particular winemaking style. A deep intensity might suggest a warm climate or certain winemaking techniques like oak aging.

  • Clarity: Wine is typically clear, and haziness may suggest a fault. However, some wines are unfiltered on purpose and can appear slightly hazy without any issues with the quality.

2. Nose: The nose of a wine can reveal a lot about its characteristics. At this stage, tasters evaluate:

  • Condition: This refers to whether the wine smells clean and fresh or if there are any off or faulty aromas, such as cork taint or excessive sulfur.

  • Intensity: This is about how easily aromas can be detected. Some wines have a pronounced aroma that can be smelled even without bringing the glass close to the nose. Others might have a more delicate aroma.

  • Aroma Characteristics: Here, tasters try to identify specific aromas. These can be categorized into several groups such as fruit, floral, spice, vegetal, oak, etc.

3. Palate: Tasting the wine allows tasters to confirm the observations made based on appearance and nose. It also introduces new aspects to assess:

  • Sweetness, Acidity, Tannin, Alcohol, and Body: These are the structural components of wine. Together, they determine the mouthfeel and balance of the wine.

  • Flavor Intensity and Characteristics: These should confirm or complement the aromas detected on the nose.

  • Finish: The finish or aftertaste of a wine is an important quality factor. High-quality wines typically have a longer, more pleasant finish.

After assessing these aspects, the taster will conclude by determining the quality of the wine (poor, acceptable, good, very good, outstanding) based on balance, intensity, complexity, and finish. By applying the WSET SAT consistently, a taster can become more precise and descriptive in their tasting notes, making it easier to understand, communicate, and remember the characteristics of different wines.