Wine tasting is one of those great mysteries that both fascinates and scares newcomers to the wine world. We watch in amazement as the experts swirl, squish, and spit their way through glass after glass of wine, making comments about their heartiness, jamminess, boldness, or light-heartiness. How in the world can they tell all of that from a simple sip of wine?
It's all in the wine-tasting process. Wine is a very complex beverage and must be tasted in a certain manner to catch all of its nuances. If you just gulp it down, you'll only catch a small percentage if the real "taste" of a wine. You must take your time and pay attention to your senses, what your eyes, nose, and mouth are saying, to fully understand a wine.
Before you crack open your first bottle of wine, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
2) Hold off on the spicy or smelly foods –Strong foods like heavy cheeses or sausages can stunt your taste buds. Instead, use bland bread or small cubes of mild cheeses to cleanse your palate.
3) Make sure your wines are at the right temperature – Some wines are made to be served at room temperature while others taste better at a cold chill. Check the bottle or online to see what is best for the wine you chose.
4) Hold your glass by the stem – If you hold the glass it via its bowl, you could heat up the wine, changing its taste or smell significantly. Instead, hold your glass' stem delicately between your thumb and fingers.
5) Go from lightest to heaviest wine – This doesn't refer to the color of the wine but rather its feel on your tongue. If you go the other way around, your taste buds could be stunted just enough to affect your tasting of the more delicate drinks. You can find out its weight by referring to online references or wine books.
6) Pour the right amount in your glass – You need at least one inch worth of wine in your glass to do a good job of tasting your wine. If you go less, you might not have enough in the glass to enjoy all of its nuances. If you go with more, you could make a horrible mess and waste a lot of good wine. Keep it to an inch worth – you could always go back for more later.
The Wine-Tasting Process
Wine Tasting is mainly practiced in three steps: look, smell, and taste. Each step takes some practice but once you've done it a few times, it will come naturally to you.
To really observe a wine, tilt your wine glass away from you and look at the color against a light or a white surface (e.g. ceiling tiles, tile floor, or tablecloth).
What color would you describe it as? (If it’s a red, you could describe it as bricky, garnet, ruby, or purply. If the wine is a white, you could say that its pale, yellow, amber, etc.)
It is cloudy or clear?
Does the wine look dark or pale?
It is translucent?
Is there any sediment or floaters?
Upright your glass and give you wine a sniff. Go ahead – just stick your nose into the airspace of your wine glass and smell. What aromas do you pick up? Maybe you get a sniff of something sweet or vinegary? Do you smell a certain fruit or another distinct smell like wood-burning or cedar lining. Let your imagination run with it.
Once you've had a chance to really smell the wine, give your glass a swirl –a 10 to 12 seconds jostle to help the wine interact with the air and release more of its essence – and then sniff it again. Does it smell different from the first time? Maybe you catch a more distinct fruity smell that reminds you of strawberries or pineapples? Or maybe that cedar smell has now evolved to remind of the time you walked through a redwood forest.
If you're tasting wine with friends, this is the time to share what you smell. As you hear what your friends have to say, give the glass another sniff – do you smell what they smell?
Don't worry if you're not catching much of the smells the first few times you do a wine tasting. Smelling every nuance of a wine takes practice. Just take your time and have fun!
Now that you've examined and smelled your wine, it's finally time to taste it. Take a medium-size sip and discretely swish it around in your mouth so it hits all the areas of your tongue.
- What do you taste? These sensations can include sweetness, sourness, saltiness, savory, or bitterness.
- How does it feel in your mouth? Heavy? Light? Smooth?
Sometimes, you'll see an experienced wine taster suck in a little air or slurp their wine. This is kosher in wine tasting circles – this helps to aerate the wine and release even more flavor and aromas.
Putting It All Together
Now that you've gone through all of the steps of tasting the wine, it's finally time to put all of the evidence together and draw a conclusion - did you like the wine?
- If you did, take note of the winery, name, and year so you can find it later.
- If you're not sure, take another taste. Sometimes you need a second chance to make up your mind.
- If you didn't like it, decide what about it you didn't like. Maybe it was too sweet or sour? Or maybe you didn't like the cedar-smelling qualities of the drink? Either way, make note of it and ask the wine expert for suggestions for another wine.
As you can see, wine tasting can be as complex or as easy as you want to make it. But in the end, you'll always come out with two things – a moment of fun with friends or family and a great tasting wine for your next get-together!