The art of tasting wine is not snobbery. It is a way to organize your senses and thoughts to understand the many different facets that make up a glass of wine.
It may seem intimidating, with its attention to detail, special language and set of rules. But this is the art of tasting and once you get it down you too can know all there is to know about a wine in less than a few seconds.
1. Expand your Knowledge
When at a tasting room, listen to the story of the winery, the region and wine making style when at a winery. Each one will explain what makes them different to the region. This story will make sense only after you have thought about the wine a bit and why it tastes the way it does.
2 . The glass your window to the grape
Holding the glass by the bulb will heat up the wine and distort the flavor. The reason for the stems is to prevent adding excess heat, so hold the glass lightly by the thin stem. Some glasses are big, some small, fluted or wide lipped. Usually a winery will serve you in a glass that works best for the entire tasting of many wines. There are special glasses designed for specific wines, which are meant to coax the most out of the grape. These are best used at home with one wine.
3. Air Time
Wine needs to “breathe,” time react to air, some wines take a long time to show it selves. So enjoy the time with each glass like a new friend and get to see how it evolves over a period of time. This is your get to know me stage. Just observe it for a moment.
4. Your first introduction
When the wine is poured, pick up the glass (without swirling it), and give an initial sniff. This is the wine direct from the bottle. This is where you will pick up faint bottle and aging notes. From this moment on the wine will change and evolve in your glass.
5. It’s all in the eye of the beholder
Look at the edges of the wine and note the colors. Tilting the glass can make it easier to see the way the color changes from the center to the edges. Hold the glass in front of a white background, such as a napkin, tablecloth, or sheet of paper, to make out the wine’s true color. For the wine professional, this is the first clue to how old the wine may be and how well it is holding up. Look for the color of the color and clarity of the wine. Intensity, depth, and saturation of color are not necessarily consistent with quality. Red wines tend to lose their color with time, turning brownish, and have a small amount of harmless, dark red sediment in the bottom of the bottle or glass. Sediment formation, which looks like dirt at the bottom of the glass, is a naturally occurring process in which polymerization causes the precipitation of colloids of pigmentation, among other things, to fall out of solution and form small grainy sediment. Long story short: this is not a fault in the wine, it this is a natural part of wine making.
6. Go for a whirl
This is to increase the surface area of the wine by spreading it over the inside of the glass allowing them to escape from solution and reach your nose. It also allows some oxygen into the wine, which will help its aromas open up.
Lightly twirl the stem of the glass, keeping the bottom of the glass on the table if you are worried about spilling.
7. Sniff the wine
Initially, you should hold the glass a few inches from your nose. Then let your nose dive 1/2 inch or so into the glass. What do you smell? Keep gently swirling your wine if you can’t smell much – (covering the top with your hand will concentrate difficult wines) swirling allows the evaporating alcohol to carry the aromatic molecules toward your olfactory senses. If you don’t think a wine smells good, it likely won’t taste good. Great wine is enticing on the nose and gives you a hint of what is to come. Common scents include:
◦ Fruits: berries, cherries, and richer fruits for reds and citrus for whites.
◦ Floral or herb scents in whites and lighter reds, like Rhône region reds.
◦ Earthy scents, like soils, minerals, or rocks, are possible in nicer whites.
◦ Spices and unique smells like vanilla, toast, pepper, chocolate, and coffee come from the wooden barrels used to age the wine, usually oak.
Older wines often have nuanced, subtle smells that are hard to place, so don’t worry if you can’t pick out a smell.
8. 1st sip. Take a sip of wine and let it linger in your mouth
One important difference between drinking and tasting is expectorating. Roll the wine around in your mouth, exposing it to all of your taste buds. Pay attention to the texture and other tactile sensations such as the sense of weight or body (the wine feels physical). What are the initial flavors that stand out? Most importantly, do you like it?
It is totally acceptable to spit the wine into a spittoon, provided on all wine-tours, if you are planning to taste lots of wine. Getting drunk will make it harder to taste complex wines later on.
9. 2nd sip. Aspirate the wine after your first taste
With your lips pursed as if you were to whistle, draw some air into your mouth and exhale through your nose. This liberates the aromas for the wine and allows them to reach your nose. The nose is the only place where you can detect a wine’s aromas. However, the enzymes and other compounds in your mouth and saliva alter some of a wine’s aromatic compounds. You are looking for any new aromas liberated by the wine’s interaction with the environment of your mouth.
10. 3rd. Take another sip of wine, this time with air with it.
In other words, slurp the wine (without making a loud slurping noise, of course). Note the subtle differences in flavor and texture. Flavors and scents come in successive waves in fine wines, they are revealed as your sensors adjust to the wine.
◦ This is especially important with red wines.
Don’t worry if this makes you feel out of place. It is an accepted step in wine tasting.
Look for balance in a good wine. Is there any one taste that overpowers the rest? Can you detect the same flavors you smelled now that you are tasting the wine? Great wines are balanced so that they don’t attack your taste buds. You can taste 2-3 different fruits, a mixture of sweet and sour, and some earthy characteristics.
Note the aftertaste of the wine. How long does the finish last? A good, 60 second or longer flavor in the aftertaste is a good sign of quality. At times, you will pick up things in the finish that was not detectable in the initial taste. Do you like the taste? Has it changed?
Write down what you think about the wine. You can use whatever terminology you feel comfortable with. The most important thing to write down is your impression of the wine and how much you liked it. The more specific or detailed you are the better your reference will be against a similar wine from another winery. Many wineries provide booklets and pens so that you can notes. This can be a great aide in helping you to pay attention to the subtleties of the wine and remember what you like.
Relate your experiences to your host. They will appreciate your feedback and it lets them know you understand the wine. This is the starting point for the next wine and it allows your host to fill in questions or further discussion.