This Is How To Taste Wine To Look Like a Pro

Professional tasters prefer a day-lit, odour-free room with white walls and table-tops to allow for optimum viewing of a wine’s colour. However, most people enjoy tasting wine with friends at a dinner table, and don’t worry about any possible distractions such as food or noise.

However you conduct your tasting, it is essential that your wines are served at the right temperature. If the wine is too cold, you won’t be able to taste it. If it is too warm, it will seem out of balance: a white wine may seem too sweet, whilst a red wine will taste too acidic or alcoholic.

Step 1: Read the Label

The label will tell you a great deal about the wine; such as the year the grapes were harvested, the region the wine comes from, its classification, the alcohol level, and possibly the grape variety. Many wines will also feature a back label that will tell you how sweet or dry the wine is, how long to keep it and what sort of food will go with it.

Step 2: Look at the Wine

Looking at a wine’s colour allows you to make some assessment about how old a wine is and how heavy it might feel in your mouth. White wine is at its palest when it is young and gradually turns a straw colour. On the other hand, red wines are at their most intense colour when young – close to purple – fading to brick red, then brown.

You will also expect varying colours from different wine varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon is darker by nature than Sangiovese. Also, the riper the harvested grape, the more colour it adds to a wine.

Pour the wine into a clear, clean wine glass, so that it is a quarter full. A big tulip-shaped glass that is broad at the base and narrower at the top will help to concentrate the aromas of the wine. Holding the glass by the stem, tilt it to a 45° angle against a white background, so you can see the range of colours in the wine from the centre to the rim.

Thickness of colour usually indicates a richness, fruitiness or heaviness. Thickness is best judged toward the edges of the wine as it sits in the glass.

Step 3: Swirl the Wine in the Glass

The easiest way to swirl a glass of wine is to leave the base of the glass on the table. Swirling the wine will help expose it to more oxygen, and is usually done to release aromas. The tears (or legs) of wine that run down the side of the glass will evaporate quickly to release concentrated aromas.

Step 4: Smell the Wine

Once you have swirled your wine, put your nose right into the glass and inhale steadily and gently. This will allow you to catch the updraft of aroma you have created.

These initial seconds will reveal all kinds of aromas. Although our olfactory sense is our strongest sense and it has the best memory, most of us don’t use it very much in our daily lives. This means that it may take some time for you to be able to put a name to the smells that you recognise, or to untangle all the different aromas in your mind. Your nose tires quickly, so give it a break after a few seconds, then go back to the wine.

It’s worth making a note of your thoughts before you forget them – this will help you to build up a memory bank of flavours against which to judge future wines and to help you recognise wines you have already encountered.

Always interpret the aromas in terms that mean something to you. If the smell reminds you of apples, gooseberries, cigars or plums, then those descriptions are right for you. It really doesn’t matter if someone else views the aromas differently – this is all to do with how YOU interpret the wine.

Step 5: Taste the Wine

It’s finally time to drink the wine. Take a good-sized sip – enough to fill your mouth about a third full, and let the wine linger for at least ten seconds. The tongue can detect only very basic flavour elements: sweetness at the tip, acidity at the sides and bitterness at the back. This means that it’s important to roll the wine around your mouth with your tongue, exposing it to as much of your mouth as possible. Gently ‘chew’ the wine as if it were a piece of food, letting it coat your tongue, teeth, cheeks and gums.

The real business of tasting wine, however, goes on in a cavity at the back of the mouth, which is really part of the nose. Serious tasters will open their lips slightly and inhale into their mouths while wine rests on the tongue. This encourages vaporisation, which releases aroma and flavour to rise up into this nasal cavity.

Step 6: Evaluate the Wine

First note any sweetness, acidity and tannic toughness that your tongue detects. Write down your first impressions, then the taste that develops after the wine has been in your mouth a few moments.

Some flavours are unmistakable; others shift subtly, and always seem slightly out of reach. Don’t try too hard to identify the flavours and aromas; they are more likely come to you when you are relaxed. Tension, stress and anxiety all make it harder to taste what’s in your mouth.

You may not taste everything a wine veteran claims to taste, but if you listen to what more experienced wine drinkers say about a wine, your mind and your mouth will begin to sense what they are talking about. With time, you will be able to experience and understand the many flavours of wine, as well as its important components such as acidity and tannin.

Step 7: Swallow or Spit it Out

Whilst you won’t be spitting out any wines you try at the dinner table, you will definitely need to spit if attending a wine tasting – that is if you want to remain relatively sober and objective. After spitting or swallowing, make a final note of any lingering aftertaste, the ‘finish’, although this is much easier to judge when you swallow.