Have you ever had this happen to you? You’re at a nice winery at the wine tasting bar, and there are people there who are speaking about wine in a way that makes you uncomfortable. They sound so knowledgeable and sophisticated about wine that you don’t dare express your opinion. That use to happen to me until I realized that most of them didn’t have a clue about what they were talking about. These individuals just wanted to appear knowledgeable. I also learned that the truly knowledgeable tasters more often than not didn’t talk quite as much, because they were too busy tasting the wine in an effort to determine what they liked.
How did I come to this realization? From winemakers who took the time to explained the different wine terms and then showed me why and how to taste wine. They helped take the mystery out of wine tasting and taught me that it’s all about what I like as an individual.
So let me dispel this by taking the mystery out of wine tasting for you and break it down in layman’s terms.
Taking The Mystery Out Of Wine Tasting
Like most things, there are factors to consider. In the case of wine, these factors are:
- What it looks like, the appearance.
- What it does when you swirl it in the glass.
- How the wine runs down the side of the glass.
- How the wine smells.
- The first sip is not to taste but to wake up your taste buds.
- Drawing air into your mouth to oxygenate the wine.
- The second sip is when you find out what the wine really tastes like.
- What it taste like with different foods.
Things to do and know:
- Take notes of what you like and don’t like for future reference.
- Always clear or clean your palate before tasting another wine.
- What kind of glass to use when serving different varieties of wine.
After all, it’s up to you when deciding what you like. To help you find that out let me explain each factor more fully.
- Looking at the wine by tilting the glass a bit can make it easier to see the color. You can hold the glass up to a light or hold the glass in front of a white piece of paper to make out the wine’s true color. You should be able to discern the color and clarity of the wine. The funny thing is that the depth or lightness of color does not necessarily affect the quality of the wine. A little sniff at this time will help you detect any off smells that could indicate spoiled wine.
- Now you should swirl the wine in your glass. This will increase the surface area, aerating the wine a bit allowing the aroma of the wine you’re tasting to open up. You will start to smell the wine by doing this. This will also give you a much better idea of how the wine smells.
- Watch the wine slide down the glass at each swirl. The more “Legs” the wine appears to have, means there is more alcohol in the wine. This is called the wine’s viscosity. Sometimes this may mean the wine is a more full-bodied wine. Again it has no bearing on the quality of the wine.
- Now we smell the wine. Start with a sniff by putting your nose into the glass and take a big sniff. This is when you may smell what they call the notes of the wine. You will hear all kinds of things; such as raspberries, pepper, and vanilla and on it goes. You can actually smell some of these things. But the bottom line is this will give you a better idea of what the wine is all about. Note: I’ll read what the winemaker says about the wine and try to see if I can smell what they mention.
- Take a sip of wine, but don’t swallow it. Instead, let the wine slide around your tongue to wake up your taste buds. You’ll start to detect such things like sweetness, sourness or bitterness. Think about how it feels in your mouth. You’ll start to sense some things about the wine such as its texture, weight, and body and how it coats your tongue. Note: Sweeter wines will noticeably coat your tongue.
- Pull some air into to you mouth to increase the oxygen to the wine. It’s called “to aspirate” the wine. This will open the wine up even more, and you’ll taste and smell the wine much more fully.
- Now take another sip of the wine, but this time really tastes the wine. Your taste buds are awake, and you can now get the full sensation; the taste and the smell of the wine.
- Pay attention to the aftertaste and how long it lingers and how it tastes. To me, this is when you’ll know whether you like the wine or not.
Other things to know and do:
- If you want to remember your experience and what you did, didn’t like and why, have a small notebook and a pen available to write everything down using whatever language that works for you. They’re your notes.
- When tasting a flight of wine, always clear or clean your palate with a sip of water and then eat a bland cracker. If you don’t, it’s like blending the taste of two wines in your mouth, and you will not get the true flavors or nature of the different wines. (Note: A flight of wine means a small amount of three wines in the same varietal or class such as red wine, white wine, etc. to taste and compare.)
- Lastly here are the basic rules I use regarding wine glasses:
- Larger glasses for reds,
- Smaller glasses for whites,
- Cordials for ports or dessert wine
- Flutes for Champagne.
Now to give you some things to look for when tasting various wines, these are common tastes or notes that are more often found in the different wine varieties.
- Cabernet – Blackcurrant, Cherry, other black colored fruits (often referred to as jammy) and green spices
- Merlot – Plum, red and black fruits, green spices and floral notes
- Zinfandel – Black colored fruits, black spices
- Syrah (or Shiraz) – Black colored fruits, black or dark spices and especially white and black pepper
- Pinot Noir – Red colored fruits, floral, herbs notes
- Chardonnay – (Depends on the growing climate) In a cool growing climate you will taste tropical fruit, citrus and green apple. In warmer growing climates, you will taste some melon, mellow or creamy notes of apple, pear, peach, and apricot.
- Sauvignon Blanc – Grapefruit, white gooseberry, lime, melon notes
- Riesling – Highly aromatic with apple, peach, pear and delicate floral undertones with honey and spice notes
Note: Aging wine in oak barrels will bring out vanilla or nutty notes in a wine. Ports and Dessert wines are all together a different animal for another discussion.
Here is the best part. It takes me longer to tell you how to taste wine than it actually does to do it. So the next time you go wine tasting, have some fun and remember, the ones who’re talking the loudest, showing off their supposed knowledge about wine are generally not that knowledgeable about the subject. Smile to yourself and enjoy the tasting, decide what you like, but most of all, enjoy the whole experience. It’s not about what someone tells whether a wine is good or not it’s about what you like.
Have you ever had a wine experience where you felt out of place and not in your element? Was this helpful in taking the mystery out of wine tasting? It would be fun to hear your story.
Time for a glass…