Wine tasting can be intimidating, especially for beginners. It takes practice to be able to identify the nuances in flavor of each wine. But we don’t think you have to be a Master Sommelier to be able to do this. After all, wine is for everyone. Just like music, there are loud and soft notes and everyone has their own tastes, so saying what is good or bad is subjective.
But to help guide you on your wine journey, below are the steps to follow whenever you taste a new wine. So if you want to be able to answer confidently the next time someone asks you “what does this wine taste like?”, continue reading.
If you’re looking to host an official wine tasting event, the first step to any wine tasting comes before any wine has even been poured. You have to ensure you have the best conditions. If the room or environment you’re in is too crowded or too noisy, it can make concentration difficult. Likewise, residual cooking smells, strong perfume or cologne, or even pet odors can distract your senses from what’s actually in your wine glass. Also keep a mental note of what you’ve eaten or had to drink during the day. We recommend avoiding drinking any coffee a few hours prior to your tasting as this can overpower your palate.
Once you’ve created a neutral environment to taste your wine, ensure you’re serving the wine correctly. A glass that is too small or too big or the wrong shape can impact the flavor of the wine. The temperature of the wine is another important factor: if a white wine is too cold for instance, it can mute all of the complex flavors.
Now that you’ve set up a neutral environment, it’s time to start the wine tasting process. The first step: see. Fill up your wine glass with about ⅓ of wine then observe what it looks like. Look straight down into the glass, hold it up to the light, then hold the glass at an angle and look at the wine against a white background. What does it look like? Is the wine clear and brilliant or full and cloudy? Is it a light and a pale straw color or a deeply golden white wine? Is it bright red or a deep purple-red? How opaque is the color?
You can start to determine what variety it is (if you’re tasting blind), whether it was aged in oak or not, as well as the concentration and body of the wine. For example, if you’re looking at a red wine and it’s an opaque purple-black color this can indicate it’s a Syrah or Zinfandel. Likewise, if it’s a lighter pale-brick shade it could be a Pinot Noir or Sangiovese. The color of the wine can also give you hints as to possible wine faults. If the color is tawny or brown (for a white wine) or orange or rusty brick color (for a red wine) this could indicate either oxidation or that the wine is simply past its prime.
Note: white wines tend to gain color as they age, whilst reds will lose color as they age.
The next step in wine tasting is swirling it. This action helps aerate the wine, exposing it to oxygen so it can open up and express its full range of aromas and flavors. You’ll also get clues as to the alcohol content of the wine when you swirl it. So how do you swirl? The easiest is to keep the base of the glass on the table then gently swirl in a clockwise motion.
When you’re swirling, pay attention to the legs (the teardrops that can form around the bowl of the glass). If there are legs, take note of how fast they move down the glass. The slower they move, the higher the alcohol content of the wine. Dense legs can also be an indication of a sweet wine.
Immediately after you swirl the wine, take a good sniff. This is one of the key senses we use when tasting wine. Start with some general observations. For example, with whites you’re likely going to smell some type of citrus. Once you identify this, try to determine if it’s the rind of a citrus fruit or perhaps the juice. If it’s an orchard fruit on the nose, is it a crisp green apple or sweet baked apples? Start to look for other flavors. Do you smell flowers, herbs, chocolate, or toast?
If you notice hints of buttered popcorn or caramel in a Chardonnay, this is an indication it has undergone a secondary malolactic fermentation. Some dessert wines have strong notes of honey. This is a sign that grapes with noble rot were used in its production, which is common in the greatest Sauternes wines.
The smell of the wine can also give indication of wine flaws. If you notice vinegar, nail polish, wet newspaper, or sweaty saddle aromas, it’s likely that there is a wine flaw such as the wine being corked. If you smell burnt matches, this is usually due to the wine being bottled with a strong dose of SO2, however this can go away with some vigorous swirling.
Now it’s finally time to taste the wine. Take a larger than normal sip and swish it around in your mouth for a few seconds, sucking in air for added aeration. Ensure that the wine hits all parts of your tongue and mouth. This way you’ll be able to gauge the sweetness, acidity, bitterness, tannins, and the mouthfeel of the wine.
The first thing to note is whether the flavors you taste match the aromas you smelled. Then you want to notice if any particular flavor overpowers the rest or if everything is well-balanced. Similar to smelling the wine, you want to pinpoint the primary, secondary, and tertiary characteristics to give you clues as to the variety of the wine as well as how and how long it has been aged for.
Commonly in white wines, you’ll be looking out for acidity. When you sip on it, how much does it make your mouth water? If a lot, then it’s safe to say it’s a high acid wine. In red wines, you’ll be looking out for tannins. Similar to what you experience when drinking black tea, tannins are the grippy sensation in your mouth when you drink red wine. It can also make it feel like it’s drying out your mouth.
If you want to take it to the next level, spit out the wine after you’ve swished it around in your mouth. Although it can seem awkward to do so, this helps expose even more flavors of the wine because you’re receiving them retro-nasally. It also helps prevent your taste buds - and yourself - from getting overpowered and fatigued if you’re tasting several wines.
This is the final step of your wine tasting experience where you analyze the finish. This is the sensation you get after you swallow the wine. So what should you be looking for? See if there’s an alcohol taste or alcohol sensation (does it make the back of your throat feel warm) and how long does the taste linger in your mouth. If you want to take out a timer, go ahead. Some wine’s can linger in your mouth for as long as one minute, or even more!
Is the finish balanced or does the acidity or the alcohol overpower the flavors? More importantly, take note of whether or not you liked the wine. This is what is going to truly help you on your wine journey and discovering wines that you’ll always enjoy.
A final note on wine tasting: remember to have fun. Whilst it seems like a lot of information, the most important part about wine tasting is to enjoy the wine, the experience, and the stories behind the wine.
If you want to book your own virtual wine tasting with our in-house Sommelier, get in touch with our team at email@example.com or visit our website for more details! These are perfect for team building activities, corporate events, bridal showers, or client events.