How to Taste Wine
Drinking wine is a pleasure unmatched by any other beverage. It’s aromas, flavors, complexities, ability to pair with foods and enhance meals and gatherings make drinking wine a special experience. While drinking wine can be a simple activity, the process of learning to taste and evaluate wine in an objective manner is essential for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of wine.
Drinking Wine vs. Tasting Wine
Drinking wine a.k.a. the “grip it and sip it” approach is really just about consumption of an alcoholic beverage that happens to be wine. While drinking wine is a very enjoyable activity, it is a different experience from tasting wine. Tasting Wine is a defined process in which a taster follows a specific course of action to engage a variety of senses to maximize the tasting experience to better evaluate the various visual, aromatic, taste and mouth feel components of a wine.
Why Follow a Tasting Process?
Learning to follow a structured tasting process will help you objectively evaluate wine in a manner that is allows a taster to better:
- Engage all senses to maximize the tasting experience
- Compare and contrast quality, complexity and flavor of different wines
- Better understand the varietal characteristics of individual grapes
- Better understand and appreciate “Terrior” – the term for how the land, soil, microclimate, and regional influence of the area affect the wine.
- Better understand the influence of vintage and influence of aging on a wine.
Preparing to Taste:
Before tasting, it is important to prepare yourself for the experience. Here is a list of recommendations and instructions to encourage a better tasting experience.
- Make sure you are in a room with adequate lighting so you can easily notice the variance of color between various wines.
- Have a sheet of white paper available to help provide a back drop to help contrast the color of various wines
- Use proper glassware that is made specifically for wine with a glass or crystal (preferred) bowl that is clear and colorless, without embellishments, with a thin rimmed edge.
- When possible, it is preferred to have a fresh glass for each unique wine that is being poured. This will allow you to compare the wines side by side.
- When glassware is limited, try to use a fresh glass when switching between red wines and white wines.
- Refrain from wearing strong cologne or perfume that may overpower the aromas of the wine.
- Refrain from eating any strong foods, chewing gum or drinking strong beverages such as coffee prior to tasting.
- Cleanse your palate with a few crackers or a piece of bread prior to tasting.
- Do not compliment wines with cheeses or other food pairings during the tasting, wait until after you have experienced all of the wines with a clean palate. Drink the wines first on their own, before pairing with foods
SEE, SWIRL, SMELL, SIP & SPIT
1) SEE: The first step in the tasting process is to visually evaluate the wine. When looking at the wine it is best to assess the wine against a white background. During this step you are looking at the wine to evaluate color and clarity of the wine. The color of a wine can provide you a lot of clues about how the wine may taste and even where the wine may be from.
White wines can range in color from near colorless to a rich golden color. In general, near colorless and lighter hued white wines indicate CRISP, higher acid wines, made from grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling, that are usually fermented in stainless steel without the use of oak. White wines with colors moving towards deeper yellow and more golden colors are an indication of fuller bodied RICH wines, produced from varietals that will be richer in texture, softer in acidity and perhaps aged in oak. Additionally, as white wines age their color evolves into a deeper golden color with honey or amber colored accents.
Red wines can range in color from a light pink salmon color for Rose wines to dark and inky wines that are completely opaque and almost black. Lighter colored red wines generally indicate red wines that will be FRUITY; lighter in body and higher in acidity, such as Barbera, Beaujolais or Pinot Noir. Wines that are deep and intense in color indicate varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel that are BOLD; full bodied, dense and powerful wines. Generally speaking the darker the color of the wine, the warmer the growing region the wine is from. The warmer temperatures lead to darker color pigments in the grapes and higher sugar levels that translate into higher alcohol wines that are often very deep in color.
When looking at a wine for clarity, check to see if the wine is clear and brilliant in the glass without any noticeable flaws. Well made wines should not be hazy or cloudy and should not have any visible flaws. Wines that are cloudy or hazy indicate a wine that may not have been made properly that may exhibit undesirable qualities.
The reason for swirling the wine is to introduce oxygen into the wine glass and to agitate the wine to release esters that contain the aromas of the wine. The more esters you can release from the glass the more pronounced and detectable the aromas of the wine will be. To swirl your wine, grab your wine glass near the base of the stem, tilt the glass away from you at about a 30° angle and rotate your wrist in a counter clockwise motion. The wine should briskly swirl around the inside of the glass bowl creating a funnel effect.
Once the wine has been swirled it is time to smell the wine. To properly whiff the aroma of the wine, bring the glass to your nose with your nose fully inserted in the bowl of the glass. Hold the glass under your nose and take a deep breathe in. This will stimulate your sense of smell and trigger your brain to process the aromas. Next, move the glass away from your nose for a few seconds and then bring the glass back to your nose for a series of regular breathes. Now that your brain already has began to process the aromas following your deep breathe, your senses will be heighted and capable of identifying aromas in greater detail.
4) SIP: Finally, the part you have all been waiting for! You finally get to taste the wine. Although, when you sip the wine do not simply drink it. It is important that you take a sip large enough to allow the wine to coat your entire tongue. Enhance the intensity of flavor by aerating the wine in your mouth by making a small opening with your lips and sucking air into your mouth. By aerating the wine in your mouth you will release more esters and send more aromas back through your nasal passages. The more you smell, the more heighted your sense of taste. Make sure that you pass the wine over all areas of your tongue from front to back to coat your entire palate. You’ll register different tastes in different areas of your tongue, so it is important that you engage all of your taste receptors to maximize the experience.
5) SPIT: The idea of spitting wine may seem ridiculous to the average person, but it can be absolutely essential at certain times. If you ever attend a large wine tasting event, featuring dozens or hundreds of wines, spitting out your wine after each tasting can be critical to prevent from becoming overly intoxicated. Spitting out wine is a completely acceptable practice, especially when tasting or evaluating a large number of wines. Obviously, it goes without saying that you don’t have to spit to taste wines, but we recommend that you use discretion and consider spitting at certain times.