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Tips on Tasting Wine

Tasting wine is the best part of enjoying wine! A practical guide to make you an awesome wine taster.

I’m sharing easy wine tasting tips by request today! Tasting wine is the best part of enjoying wine, right? This guide focuses on practical but non-stuffy techniques guaranteed to make you an awesome wine taster.

You already have a lot of clues about a wine including its varietal, vintage and producer. These clues will all help give you an expectation for what a wine should taste like. Certain fruit flavors are more common to certain wine varietals. The more you pay attention to each flavor, the more refined your taste becomes. Identifying how a range of different wines tastes comes with practice and experimentation. And, tasting wine builds a catalog of images, smells, and flavors in your memory.

Not to oversimplify, but there are just a few simple steps to wine tasting:

4 Steps in Tasting Wine

  1. Look
  2. Smell
  3. Taste
  4. Think

Look

Tilting the glass so the wine thins out toward the rim will provide clues to the wine’s age and weight.

If the color looks quite pale and watery near its edge, it suggests a rather thin, possibly insipid wine. If the color looks tawny or brown (for a white wine) or orange or rusty brick (for a red wine) it is either an older wine or a wine that has been oxidized and may be past its prime.

Look at the shade of color and opacity in neutral light. How does it compare to other wines? Is it darker? More intense? Harder to see through? Take a mental snapshot for later, these hints will show how bold, rich and viscous the wine is and give you a clue as to what you’re drinking.

A guide to wine colors is below:

Smell

Identifying smells beforehand makes tasting flavors in wine easier. Start by swirling the glass to aerate the wine and release its aromas. To swirl a glass, place it flat on a table and move your hand as though you are drawing tiny circles with the base. Now stick your nose in there – what do you smell? When you first start smelling wine, think big to small. There will at least be fruits – so think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits.

Hints: Red wines typically smell like various berries, cherries, and plums. White wines typically smell like citrus fruits, tree fruits (peaches, apples, pears), and melons.

  • Primary Aromas are grape-derivative and include fruits, herbs, and floral notes.
  • Secondary Aromas come from winemaking practices. The most common aromas are yeast-derivative and are most easy to spot in white wines: cheese rind, nut husk (almond, peanut), or stale beer.
  • Tertiary Aromas come from aging, usually in bottle, or possibly in oak. These aromas are mostly savory: roasted nuts, baking spices, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, cedar, and even coconut.

Taste

Who doesn’t love this step?! Take a sip and swish it around your mouth to make sure it coats your entire tongue before you swallow. Think about the flavors, textures and body of the wine. Is it sharp? Does it make your tongue feel dry? Does it have a burn to it? Do the flavors match the smells from earlier? Focus on one flavor at a time. Always be thinking from broad-based flavors to more specific ones, i.e. the general “black fruits” to the more specific, “dark plum, roasted mulberry, or jammy blackberry.” Revisit smelling the wine after your first sip to help formulate any conclusions.

Some common wine tastes are below:

  • Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid. This varies with climate and grape type. Some varieties are known for their bitterness (i.e. Pinot Grigio). Some white table wines have a small portion of their grape sugars retained, and this adds natural sweetness. Lastly, very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances salty reds and whites exist.
  • Texture: Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture is almost always happens in a higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannins with our tongue, which is the sand-paper or teabag drying sensation in red wines.
  • Length: The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). Ask yourself, how it takes until the wine isn’t with you anymore?

Think

Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance (i.e. too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic)? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and offer your suggestions! There are no wrong answers. Sometimes a guess is all you need!

Tips & Tricks

Get the Right Glass: It’s easier when you have the right tool for the job. The round bowl shape of a wine glass is convenient for swirling, provides lots of room to hold aromas, and has an opening big enough to stick your nose in.

Start Clean. Make sure your mouth is clean and that you’re well hydrated. Don’t brush your teeth immediately before wine tasting.

Learn to Swirl: The act of swirling wine actually increases the number of aroma compounds that are released into the air. It truly helps.

Drink Water: Drink one cup of water to every glass of wine. Staying hydrated keeps your tongue working.

Go for Seconds: The wine often tastes different the second time around, or at the very least, you’ll notice something new. Try a sip more than once before deciding what you think.

Learn in Multiples: Comparing different wines in the same setting will help you improve your palate faster, and it also makes wine aromas more obvious. Trying wines side-by-side always really helps!

How to Write Useful Tasting Notes: If you’re someone who learns by doing, taking tasting notes will be very useful to you. Keep notes on what you like and what you don’t, and it will help you select future wines!

Cheers!
xx—BB

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