Whether you are ordering a bottle of wine at a restaurant or on vacation in wine country, knowing how to properly taste wine is a great way to get the very most out of every sip.
The art of wine tasting is not about drinking the wine. It is about savoring, contemplating and discussing the characteristics of the wine with fellow connoisseurs. “Tasting” involves using your senses to evaluate the range of perceived flavors, aromas and general characteristics of a wine. Tasting is done in five steps (known as the 5 Ss); see, smell, swirl, sip and savor. What follows, is a general guide on how to go about these steps and to discover your wine’s full potential.
Step 1 - See
The first step of wine tasting is to do a visual observation. A wine's color is better judged by putting it against a white background (a table cloth or white piece of paper will work well). Be sure that you use a wine glass that is clean and clear so that you can examine it properly. Hold it by the stem as you tilt your wine glass at an angle in good light in order to see the colors. Colors can give the taster clues to the grape variety used to produce the wine. Wines can range dramatically in color depending on what kind of grape is used and how long it has aged. White wines range in color from green to yellow, while red wines range from pale red to a deep brown red. As you study the color of your wine, look at the difference in color from the rim, edge and the middle. Is it dark or light? Is there sediment? Is it clear, cloudy or opaque? Take notes as you make these observations.
Step 2 – Smell
Take a big sniff of your wine by sticking your nose deep into the glass. As you breath in, consider the aroma of the wine. Does it smell good? Is it fruity? Does it have a floral aroma? Maybe it is spicy? It is possible that it gives off only a very slight scent. Look for the wine’s unique characteristics. Sniff it a second time to see if you get something different from your first sniff.
Step 3 – Swirl
The swirling of the glass releases the wine's aromas to the top edge of the glass, allowing it to breathe. To correctly swirl your wine, hold the glass carefully by the stem and gently swirl in either direction. Be careful to not to spill it on your tasting partner by using only your wrist to swirl, holding the rest of the arm still.
As the wine cascades down the inside of the glass take a moment to observe the “legs” (or tears as the French refer to them) of the wine. An examination of a wine’s legs will give us information concerning its "body". The legs are an indication of the amount of body a wine will have. Younger wines and lighter wines usually very little "leg". Is your wine "light"-bodied or "full"-bodied?
Step 4 - Sip
It is now time to taste your wine. For the first stage of tasting, take a small sip let it sit on your tongue. Roll it around in your mouth. Take a small breath of air and swirl the wine in your mouth. Do you taste what you smelled? How long does the flavor last? Was it full bodied or light? What is your initial impression that the wine makes on your palate? Do you notice the alcohol content, tannin levels or acidity? Does it taste differently after swirling it?
Take a second sip. What is the wine’s actual taste on your palate? For red wines some examples of common tastes are– fruity, spicy, woody or smokiness.
Flavors that may be found in white wine include fruity, floral, buttery, and earthy.
Some wine experts prefer to spit the wine out. Whether to spit the wine out or not is personal preference. There are no direct rules, but some believe that it helps to find the aftertaste.
Step 5- Savor
Finally, it is time to examine the finish of the wine. After you swallow, take your time exhaling gently through your nose and mouth. With complex, high quality wines, the taste can linger for more than a minute.
Some questions to ask yourself about the wine’s aftertaste.
- How long does the taste linger after the wine is swallowed?
- Do you want another sip?
- Was it too bitter?
- What foods would go well with it?
- Would you buy this wine again?
Remember, as you begin tasting and taking notes, these are your personal perceptions. There are no right or wrong answers. Taking the time to consider what characteristics you like and dislike in wine will help to deepen your appreciation for wine and further the enjoyment of your wine experience!
Wine Tasting Terms
- Vintage- A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single specified year.
- Horizontal Tasting- Tasting wines from the same vintage is “horizontal” tasting. You can compare wines from the same vintage but different wineries.
- Vertical Tasting- Tasting wines from a single winery, but from different vintages. “Vertical” tasting emphasizes the differences between various vintages of the same wine type from the same wineries
- Blind tasting- the vintage, winery, year of the wine or bottle are not able to the tasters. It is common for the wine to be poured into a separate container before tasting.
12 Categories and their aromas.
- Chemical – Includes aromas like sulfur and petroleum
- Pungent – Aromas like alcohol
- Oxidized – Aromas like acetaldehyde
- Microbiological – Aromas like yeast and lactic acid
- Floral – Aromas like Pelargonium geraniums and linalool
- Spicy – Aromas like licorice and anise
- Fruity – Aromas like blackcurrant and apricot
- Vegetative – Aromas like eucalyptus and artichoke
- Nutty – Aromas like walnut and hazelnut
- Caramelized – Aromas like butterscotch and molasses
- Woody – Aromas often imparted by oak like vanilla and coffee
- Earthy – Aromas such as mushroom and mildew
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