How to taste wine, the ultimate guide
Posted on 07 May 2020
Wine is simply a genuine beverage of hedonistic pleasure. However, many people are still afraid of tasting it. In fact, if there is no right or wrong when it comes to personal taste, there are some basics to apply regarding how to taste wine properly and this might be a reason of fear.
No real need for a greater understanding of the history of the wine, the grape, or the appellation to start enjoying it. No. Apart from practicing, again and again, to taste wine like a sommelier - or a “baby sommelier“ at least in private circles! - you’ll basically need to gather your senses.
4 on 5 are actually activated during a wine tasting - sight, smell, taste, and touch. To ensure the most neutral conditions as possible to let the wine a fair chance to stand on its own (no noisy room or strong cooking smells or perfume, clean glass, etc.) and go!
1. It all starts with your eyes.
Your glass should ideally be about one-third full.
Hold it out and tilt it a bit to check out the color, opacity, and viscosity of the wine.
Note the depth of color from the rim to the center of the glass; the denser the color is the richer the wine. Finally, give the glass a good swirl keeping it firmly on a flat surface. If the wine forms “legs” or “tears” that run down the sides of the glass, it has more alcohol and glycerin content and might be ripe and mouth-filling.
2. Move on to nosing.
While swirling your glass gently, smell and sniff the wine; the action of swirling actually allows oxygen to enter the wine and release its scents while coating the glass at the same time.
Nosing is not about simply inhaling the aromas: so as to catch the whole spectrum of aromatics, sniff them quickly and shortly more than once. Then step away and let the information filter through to your brain.
Do any off-aromas indicate the wine is spoiled (corked, high concentration of sulfites, etc.)? If not, you can start identifying aromas always thinking broad first (i.e. for fruits, citrus or tropical fruits in whites or red, blue or black fruits in reds).
There are basically three categories to be nosed when tasting wine:
- Primary aromas are grape-derivative; they include fruits (often reflecting the growing conditions of the vineyard), herbs or floral notes but also « earthy » scents of mushroom, damp earth or rock.
- Secondary aromas come from winemaking practices like yeast-derivative; they are quite easier to spot in white wines (nut husk or stale beer for instance).
- Tertiary Aromas come from aging, either in the bottle or in oak barrel; these include roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, smoke, cured leather, cedar, and even caramel.
Generally speaking, older wines have more complex nuanced scents, less fruity aromas.
Red wines develop more smells of truffle, tobacco, spice or forest floor, and whites notes of honey, flowers, popcorn, or minerals.
3. Finally taste the wine.
Take a reasonable sip of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if pulling it through a straw.
To taste wine like a sommelier you would value all the sensations at the beginning (“the attack“), the middle (mid-palate), and the finish. In the moment but also once you’ve swallowed it.
In the mouth and on the palate, detect sour, sweet, bitter, even salty flavors - actually, all wines have some sour because of natural acidity and very few have salty. You should also feel the texture of the wine (smooth, silky, rough, dusty) which increases with higher-alcohol and tannins.
Then recognize the aromas you had identified previously and enrich them.
Once swallowed (or spit), notice for how long it remains with you.
In the end, ask yourself if the wine is well-balanced or not (too alcoholic, too tannic, too sour, too sugary, too astringent…); but also if it is harmonious (all flavors are seamlessly integrated), complex (with multiple flavors and sensations at once and still evolving even in your mouth) or even complete, « the Graal ».In the end, ask yourself if the wine is well-balanced or not (too alcoholic, too tannic, too sour, too sugary, too astringent…); but also if it is harmonious (all flavors are seamlessly integrated), complex (with multiple flavors and sensations at once and still evolving even in your mouth) or even complete, « the Graal ».
Now that you know how to taste wine just enjoy it to the fullest, pointing out impressive characteristics and adding memorable wine experiences to your own expertise.