How to Taste Wine
Most guides on how to taste wine like a pro will give you a checklist with boxes to tick and categories to assign relating to colour, intensity, body etc. If your comfortable doing this – great! If not… read on…
Prepare yourself for the tasting
Clear you mind; Try not to read anything which will sway your mind or put words in your mouth before the tasting. After all, the whole purpose of wine tasting is about forming your own personal opinions based on your own unique experience of the wine. It’s not about copying and reciting the comments, thoughts and opinions of expert wine critics such as Jancis Robinson, Tim Aitken et al. Remember, this is about your own personal enjoyment and there’s nothing wrong in challenging or disagreeing with the experts.
Avoid being drunk (at least at the start of the tasting session); Being drunk will disorientate your senses and you won’t be able to taste wine properly.
Get good glassware! Glass means glass, not plastic, not paper, not ceramic…but glass!
The aim of a good tasting session is to get as physically close to the wine as possible to enable better sensory recognition. This will require thin glass rather than thicker, patterned and cut glass. It must have a stem to let you hold and swirl the glass without the need to hold the glass bowl with your hands, because this will affect the wines temperature from your own body heat.
The shape of the glass makes a huge difference to the wine aromas. The glass needs a decent bowl where a wine sample of no more than half the volume of the glass can be swirled, without spilling any wine (because that would be wasteful), and where there is sufficient space for the aroma or bouquet to collect within the bowl.
Avoid excessive perfumes and aftershaves; Some excessively scented hygiene products, perfumes and aftershaves can overpower the wine aromas, and this can cause confusion when you’re trying to determine the wine aromas – avoid these.
Let’s get started – look at the wine
At this point, you’re simply observing what the wine looks like.
Colour: It doesn’t take too many years of experience to make a correct judgment about the main colour category – red, white or rose, however, each of these have a separate colour spectrum which relates to the wine making process or maturation methods.
Legs: These are the streaky dribbles of wine that crawl down the inside of the glass after you swirl it. Longer legs indicate a higher alcohol or sugar content.
Get closer to the wine – sniff it
At this point you’re going to assess the wine on the ‘nose’, but remember, don’t hold the bowl of the wineglass, hold it by the stem.
Swirl the wine glass: Swirling is the number one thing you should do (okay – rethinking this, it maybe second to physically drinking the wine), but swirling unleashes the soul of the wine and you should be able to smell the aromas and intensity of the wine in the bowl of the wine glass.
Sniff: Unless you’re professionally assessing the intensity of a wine, stick your nose right into the bowl of the wine glass and have a good sniff of the freshly released wine aromas. Try closing your eyes to heighten your sense of smell at this point and have a think about what the aromas smell like.
Wait 30 seconds or so and have another swirl followed by another good sniff. Most good wines will “open up” after a while to reveal a deeper tapestry of aromas, so don’t judge them on the first sniff.
Have a think about what you can smell. White wines may give aromas which can be clustered into Green, Citrus, Stone and Tropical Fruits, going deeper you may be able to determine the exact fruit, i.e. lemon, limes, green apples or nectarines etc.
Red wines may give aroma clusters of Red, Black and Dried Fruits and you may detect specific fruits like strawberries, blackberries and cherries etc.
Wines can have other aromas which can reveal how they have been made, for example oak imparted smells such as smoke, toast coffee etc.
Enjoy the aromas on your nose and see how many different smells you can detect.
Go on – taste it now
It’s finally time to taste the wine, but before you do… there’s a big decision to make… Are you going to spit or swallow?
Spit or Swallow; Wine tastings are dangerous places for the uninitiated! Of course, you can swallow if you want to, but be careful or you’ll end up hoop faced drunk and not able to remember anything about the tasting.
Our first natural reaction to spitting wine is… Hold on a minute, I paid good money for this and I’m not wasting it! Spitting’s uncouth and I don’t do it. Mmmm… but other’s will be swallowing… so I won’t be on my own!
You can drink every wine sample if you wish but remember that evaluating the later wines will become more difficult as the alcohol will gradually cloud your judgement. Swallowing isn’t necessary to fully taste the wine because leaving it in your mouth for up to ten seconds and spitting it out will allow you taste it thoroughly.
Spittoon; For ‘spitters’, in more elegant surroundings, a spittoon can be used to spit wine into, however, simple containers like a large plastic cup (one per taster) or an ice bucket that two or three tasters can share will be suffice.
Cleanse your palate; If there’s water on offer, take a sip between tastings and use it to swill your glass. You can also nibble on some crackers to help cleanse your palate.
Okay…you’ve waited long enough… take a nice healthy sip…
Swill it around your mouth, coat all your taste buds and savour it; A lot of wine tasting is in the texture, so don’t spit or swallow the wine too quickly. Give it up to 10 seconds.
With your empty mouth, think about the aromas you recognised on your nose, can you taste these? How long do these flavours last for in your mouth? If they disappear quickly (less than 15 seconds) it has a short finish. If it lingers longer, it has a long finish which is generally a sign of better wine quality.
If your cheeks are oozing juices into your mouth after swallowing (or spitting) the wine, the longer this continues for means there is a higher acid content in the wine.
To assess the tannins of the wine (red wines), rub your tongue across the top of your palate and see if it feels course, sticky or grippy or does it slide across gently and feel like velvet or satin?
Share your opinions
There’s no right or wrong answer in wine tasting; it’s totally subjective. Share your thoughts and opinions with others. Don’t worry if you write down “smells like peanut butter and farmers fields” you’re just being creative.
So, there you have it – a few tips on how to taste wine. You’re now ready to go out and face the world of wine tasting!