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Tasting is the capacity to analyse and communicate sensations. Tasting is not a science, there may not be only one answer to any question, every taster answers for oneself, with honesty and modesty (Harry Waugh, a British wine expert, was asked if he had ever mistaken Bordeaux for Burgundy: "Not since lunch".) Nobody can taste for you (no book, no person); tasting requires to know the products tasted and it requires practice. Everybody is allowed to have a personal opinion, everybody builds one's own tastes.

Purpose

There can be four purposes for tasting mead (any tasting can have something of each purpose but one generally dominates):

Preparation

Provide

Environment

The drawback is that it is a somewhat sterile environment which may improve analysis at the cost of pleasure.

Tasters

Mead selection

How to select the meads? Well, unless you make a lot of different meads yourself or live in meadland where you could buy a lot of commercial meads, the choice is pretty limited. One possibility is to taste several meads from the same meadery or mead maker. Another possibility is to taste several meads of the same style (melomel, metheglin, etc.) from different meaderies or mead makers. In any case, there should be a pattern, the meads you serve should not be random meads you happened to have.

If the purpose of the tasting is the discovery of mead, it is possible to try to sample various kinds of mead: a traditional mead, a metheglin, a melomel, a sparkling mead, etc. to show the breadth of mead.

Serve 5 or 6 different meads (the more you drink the more your senses get tired), 75 cl will serve 12 to 20 people.

Categories

The several kinds of mead are described in the categories page.

Temperature

Keep the mead at the tight temperature for a few hours before serving: it is important to drink the mead at the right temperature, the cooler it is, the more attenuated the taste.

How to know which temperature is best? From your experience (sometimes the meadery gives indications on the bottle.) By comparison with white wines, sweeter meads can be drunk around 10 or 12°C (48 to 52°F), drier meads between 8 and 10°C (44 to 48°F.) One thing that can be done is to have the bottle in the fridge, serve it fairly chilled and taste it. Then allow it to warm up (if you served only one or two ounces, the mere contact of your hand on the glass should do it) and taste again. This way you can compare the taste at different temperatures. You should notice that this can have a dramatic effect. Note: some meads can/should be drunk warm. You may want to try this too.

Order

Meads have now been selected and are waiting at the right temperature. Grabbing the first bottle to open it, you ask yourself: "By the way, which one is the first bottle?" As a rule of thumb, the lighter, less alcoholic, drier is served first. In the case of mead, there is a twofold problem. The first issue is the lack of data, which of these meads is the driest? In the case of wine, you can guess from the grape, the age, etc. what to expect. But for mead... looking at the bottle, you can read this mead is 'semi-sweet' (I have never seen a mead that was not semi-sweet according to the meadery, even for those thicker and sweeter than mollasses.) The other problem is the number of criteria which must be taken into account: e.g. should you serve a dry metheglin before a sweet traditional mead? It gets simpler when you know the meads (i.e. if you have already tasted them): you can just drink the best one last. If the meads are not very much different from one another, you can (especially in the case of bling tasting) serve them randomly.

Procedure

First nose

espritduvin.com advices : "The wine has just been served [...]. So the wine is ready. Smell it rightaway so that it gives its first impressions. We recommend this step before paying attention to the appearance, in order to get the aromas the most volatile and as little oxidized as possible. The color can wait for a few minutes!"

Stick your nose in the glass (keeping it still) and take a good sniff. Allow a couple seconds to consider the sensations.

The purpose of this step is to smell the mead before it oxydizes. When you are done -- even if your conclusion is that you do not smell much --, you can move on to the next step. Another aim is to detect early any damning defect: cork, moldy, vinegar, etc. in order to avoid poisonning.

Appearance

Look at the mead on a white background.

Smell

rotating the glass

Swirl the glass and take a few more sniffs. You should notice an accentuation of the odors, some new odors may also appear. If you detect an off-odor, swirl the mead violently and sniff again. This step might take as much time as necessary.

Honey aroma should dominate, which may be sweet and may express the aroma of flower nectar. Aromas produced during fermentation, such as fruity esters and alcohol, may also be present. In the case of melomels (including cyser and pyment), the mead should exhibit the aroma of the fruit(s) used. If a blend of fruits/spices was used, one fruit/spice may dominate the aroma profile.

Write comments on your evaluation sheet but do not assign a score yet.

Taste

taste and tongue the nose: smell and retro-olfaction

Most of what we call taste is in fact smell: taste per se is pretty much limited to four tastes, each associated with a precise part of the tongue. On top of these four tastes and smell through retro-olfaction, you will focus on the physical properties of the mead: body, alcohol (warm feeling), astringence.
The first sensation is sweetness, then come acidity and finally bitterness.

taste tongue example importance
salty periphery table salt should not occur in mead
sweet tip sugar, honey
  • important to make the difference between sweet and dry meads.
  • if too sweet, the mead may be cloying.
bitter back tannin, caffeine to be avoided?
sour/ acidic/ tart top (and gums) lemon, vinegar
  • if not acidic enough: it will appear bland,
  • needed in sweet meads so that they are not pure sugar.

Swirl the mead to aerate it and let it release its aroma. Draw a small amount of mead into your mouth so that it is in contact with the whole tongue, the palate, etc. Swallow the mead and exhale through your nose.

The flavor of honey should be featured, which may include some sweetness. The products of fermentation (esters, alcohol, etc.) can also be there. Any additives (acids, spices, tannin, etc.) should enhance the honey flavor and lend balance to the overall character of the mead but their taste should not be distinguishable. For melomels, the fruit should be both distinctive and well-incorporated into the sugar-acid balance of the mead. In a metheglin, the spices/herbs should be expressed in the flavor as a distinctive enhancement to the honey flavor, whether harmoniously or by contrast, but the honey character is still the backbone of the mead and should appear in the flavor. When a blend of fruits/spices is used, one fruit/spice may dominate.

Evaluation

There are several scoring schemes available for wine and beer. But for mead I only found that of the beer judge certification program (bjcp.org.) Topics generally found in evaluation sheets are appearance, aroma, flavor (including texture/mouthfeel and aftertaste) and overall impression/drinkability.

Avoid vague term such as "nice." The correct vocabulary may look awkward and pretentious (and sometimes is) but it has the advantage of accuracy. See the glossary.

There are basically two ways of assigning scores: top-down and bottom-up. In the first case, an overall score is assigned and then scores topic by topic are chosen to match the overall score. The problem is that the scores may not match the comments. In the case of bottom-up, scores are assigned topic by topic, then an overall score is calculated by summing them up. The problem is that the overall score may not match the overall impression. Everybody may tend to use one method over the other; but of course a mix of the two may be preferable.

Share your impressions with the other tasters.

Do not drink and drive. Walk instead. Or at worst crawl.

References


March 29th 2003