Before you begin with your wine tasting, make sure to give yourself the best chance of tasting the wine properly. The conditions have to be right; If they are it will also be a more enjoyable experience. So be sure to move away from any strong smells, noises or heat. Also, make sure you have the right glass for the job. Take white wines from the fridge or cooler about a quarter of an hour before tasting them. And for red wines, ensure they are just below room temperature – you can also warm them in your hands by cupping the bowl of the glass, (which is one reason why red wine glasses tend to have larger bowls than white wine glasses).
The proper way to taste wine is to be aware of the various elements that make up the wine. Think of its main characteristics – look at the colours, which will tell you a lot about the wine, such as age and strength. Then think, is it sweet or dry and floral, fruity or indeed something else? Crisp or smooth? These will come through while sniffing and tasting. If you’re just starting out on your journey into the world of wine, this may feel a bit overwhelming.
How does a wine taste for beginners? At first you might think it’s just sweet, or sour, or fruity – and that’s fine. With experience – and our wine tasting tips – you’ll learn to develop these basic observations and the wines will reveal themselves more and more to you. The best way to approach wine tasting is by using the 5 main points.
What are the five main points?
These are the five main ways of structuring your wine tasting – make sure to do them all, because enjoying wine is a treat for all your senses – not just your taste buds! Next time someone asks you ‘how does wine taste’, you’ll know that the answer lies in the following elements.
This is not just for show – you can learn a lot by inspecting the colour of a wine – how deep or intense it is can indicate how strong the flavour might be. In addition, it might reveal something of the age of the wine – white wines gain darker hues, but red wines lose their colour over time. Inspecting wine also helps you to check there is no sediment at the bottom which you sometimes get with red wines. If there is sediment, allow it time to settle to the bottom of the bottle, then pour carefully to avoid getting sediment in the glass.
The reason for swirling the wine in your glass is that it adds oxygen to the wine, which really opens up its flavours. The aromas rise and are caught in the lip of the glass. Also, another thing to notice is the wine may stay a while on the sides of glass; This can be called ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ of the wine and can indicate the wine has viscosity, which give the wine a rounded mouthfeel.
Swirl the wine in the glass. It’s OK to put your nose right into the glass – in fact, it’s the best way to get the full aromas of the wine. It’s also fine if you detect unusual aromas. You might smell vegetation, wood, minerality, even smoke or wet stones – all of these exist in wine aromas because of the rich array of flavour elements that make up wine. Remember also that the smell of a wine can change once it has contact with air as you start to drink it – see what differences in aromas you can notice.
All the steps you’ve gone through up to now should have given you a good feeling for how the wine should taste. When sipping, try and let in some air too (that’s why you sometimes hear that sucking noise from wine enthusiasts when they’re tasting wine). To get really technical, there are three types of flavour to look out for: primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary flavours are those that come from the grapes themselves, such as fruit, floral or spicy ones. Secondary are those from the fermentation process or barrel that the wine was put in, such as oak flavours. Tertiary flavours occur throughout the aging process – these could be more complex as time passes. Again – don’t worry if you notice ‘unusual flavours – some of the greatest wines in the world have been described by experts as ‘flinty’ (for example Chablis), buttery, mushroomy, or even like tobacco.
This is the end, or ‘finish’ of your taste of wine. Whether you swallow, or use a spittoon or bucket, (more on that below), you will notice how the flavours linger on your palate. It might have a powerful, complex finish where it develops new flavours, or perhaps it cleanses your palate with nice acidity. See how many things you can notice about the wine’s finish.
How to drink red wine properly
Red wine has a high level of tannins (the flavour molecules which make your mouth feel a little dry after drinking it), so you’ll need to allow for that when tasting. Red wine will also have a different flavour profile to white wine – with more red or black fruit flavours and more structure.
Do you spit out wine at tastings?
You might wonder why anyone would spit out wine. There are a few reasons; firstly, as you get more intoxicated, your ability to detect the subtle nuances (and remember them later) gets dulled, and your palate gets overwhelmed with alcohol. Secondly, at a wine tasting event, you often taste numerous wines – maybe up to 40 or more, so spitting is the only realistic way of sampling them all. Sometimes, however, you get a better overall experience when you swallow it, because it reaches the taste buds at the very back of your mouth, and when you exhale you get more flavours too.
We hope that these wine tasting tips have given you some ideas of things to try next time you are tasting good wines with friends, and a deeper understanding of how to taste wine.
A beginner’s guide to food and wine pairing
If you’re curious about what you eat and drink, then you might find yourself wondering what to drink with your favourite meals. We’ve created this article which includes our favourite tips and recommendations to create a helpful guide for anyone wanting to pair good wine and food.