This Newbie venture began with me asking about wine tasting, & with so many topics peaking my curiosity along the way, I failed to truly answer that very question: How do you taste wine? Well, while knowing how your wine travelled all the way from vine to glass is equally important, today we’re going to discuss what to do when that glass is poured & you’re faced with the inevitable role of judge in a trial of aromas. Let’s learn some tasting tips!
Let’s set the scene, shall we? You’re visiting a local winery with friends & decide to do a tasting. Sitting down, a pen & piece of paper join you at the table. What’s that for? Tasting notes. You quickly realize the only thing you’ve ever tasted in your wine was the alcohol (or what you thought was the alcohol) & you don’t know what the heck you’re looking for. Relax, we got you!
Remember, the step before these steps: Think. Being open & staying focused on those aromas & flavor profiles throughout your tasting when you’re a beginner will help it become easier as you keep practicing. That doesn’t mean it has to be so serious, just keep your mind free to let those possible characteristics present themselves to you. I’d also like add that thinking involves questioning, too. So, don’t be afraid to join in on the conversation, or start one, if you’re unsure of what you’re detecting!
The glass is poured. The first step is the easiest: Look. The first thing you want to do when observing your wine is to notice the color’s opacity & hue, as well as the viscosity (or apparent “thickness”). Much like ours, most wineries will have white menus to help you with this step. Hold the wine glass over the white background to get the best view of your glass. Wines with a more intense red color often have more acidity, those with a deeper purple color usually have lower acidity, & more opacity often means younger wine. Also, notice the “legs” on the wine (the tear-drop like remnants of wine left inside the glass after swirling, also pictured in top photo), these typically mean higher alcohol or sugar content. However, remember every wine you will ever try is different. These are only guidelines, there are many other factors that contribute to these outcomes. They can also change while aging in the bottle. Moving on. Although important to the process of wine tasting, this step does not require a ton of thought. Basically, identifying these characteristics will give you a point of reference when continuing on.
Now, before you bring that glass to your lips, don’t forget to bring it to your sniffer first! Next step: Smell— Probably the most important step because it gives you a foundation for when you begin tasting. Bring the glass to your nose & sniff, just for a baseline first. Then, swirl the wine to open up those characteristics you’re looking for & go in again in short sniffs, then think about it. There are hundreds of aromas you can detect when smelling your wine, so be open. You may notice fruit, herbs, oak, or earthy notes. Even then, you may be able to narrow it down even more (i.e. chocolate covered strawberry, toasted marshmallow, etc.). But I get it, picking those out of thin air seems impossible sometimes. That’s why it’s always good to taste with others. Not only is it more enjoyable, but it will also enhance the experience in expanding your wine knowledge. It’s important to remember in this step, & also when tasting the wine, that there’s really no wrong way to recognize these notes & no wrong answers either. All palettes are different, & what you detect, another person may not. Again, taste with people & play off each other’s notes.
Now, it’s time: Taste. Take a sip of wine, not a mouthful. Then, you can “sip” it through your teeth to continue opening those aromas, “chew” on it to make sure those notes hit every taste bud & crevice inside your mouth, or simply let it sit on your tongue. I know the next step may seem like it should be to swallow, but it’s actually completely acceptable to spit it out. Tastings often come with spittoons for that very reason. Chances are, you’re tasting a lot of different wines. You may want to save that buzz for later on with the wine you enjoy most, or you may just not like it—It happens, & it’s okay. You can’t like them all. Whichever way you decide to do it (even if it’s not listed here), make sure to be focused on what characteristics you’re picking up. Is it sweet or dry? Sweetness. Does it taste tart or make you salivate? Acidity. Does your mouth feel dry after? Tannins. Hot sensation running down your throat? Alcohol. Just to name a few… & don’t forget the flavor profiles. You may notice certain aromas when smelling that don’t translate on the tongue. Branch out. Make sure to stay focused until the finish (final note, essentially the aftertaste).
Then: Discuss. This is where a group comes in handy, but even if you are tasting alone, talk to your waiter or sommelier. They’ve been hired for a reason, bounce off their ideas & convey your thoughts, too. Ideally, this step should be happening the whole time, which is what makes it so fun!
Put all of it together & you should have a pretty good idea of the wine you just tasted. Yeah, all that for just one wine, but that’s what’s so fun about it! It’s almost like a game. Also, your views are entirely subjective—Remember that. Your tasting experience is heavily influenced on your environment & your genetics, as well. It can’t be helped; Some people’s individual senses are much more sensitive than others. The good news is: The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be & the better understanding you’ll have of what you like.
So, what now? Taste a lot of wine, take a lot of notes, do it with friends, & be open to learning each time. Enjoy it!
(& if it still seems like a lot, try a few of our resources from previous blog posts linked below!)
Vocabulary to Remember & Aroma Wheel
Bailey Morris, Marketing/ Gift Shop