When it comes to wine tasting, you don’t need to be a professional wine taster in order to find a wine that is enjoyable to your palate. Here are some simple wine tasting tips that will get you through the process like a pro. The important thing is to understand why your are following these five basic steps. Once the wine is poured into a wine glass, hold it by the stem and follow these simple steps.
FIVE “S’s” TO WINE TASTING
1. Sight – Try to look through the wine onto a white background. A sheet of paper is ideal. You can tell a lot about the age of the wine from the color. White wines will develop more color as they age while reds will generally lose color. And if you keep them long enough they’ll both turn the same color, brown. As white wines age they will change through: yellow-green, straw, pale gold, deep gold, light amber, yellow-brown, brown. As red wines age they will change through: purple-pink, ruby, mid red, dark red, brick red, tawny brown.
2. Swirl – swirl the wine in the glass. The aim is to oxygenate the wine. This releases the ‘volatiles’ into the air above the wine. Get as much wine as you can on the side of the glass, this gives you more wine to air surface area. Decanting a wine serves the same purpose before serving it.
3. Smell the wine – Straight after swirling the wine, stick your nose right in the glass and take a few short sharp sniffs. A long sniff will dull your sense of smell. What you’re looking for here can be summarized in three areas: the grape smell, fermentation bouquet and maturation odors.
- Varietal – the characteristics of the fruit ie: peppery spicy Shiraz, lemony Riesling, blackberry, raspberry, cherry, plum, black currant, chocolate, coffee, tobacco or cedar in Cabernet Sauvignon, raisins and grapes in Muscat, apple, peach, apricot, lemon and other tropical fruit in Chardonnays, raspberry, strawberry, cranberry in Pinot Noir.
- Distinct – you can pick the individual wine aroma but can’t identify a single varietal, usual in blended varieties ie: Cabernet Merlot, rich in blackberry and spice.
- Fermentation bouquet – a fresh yeasty smell can be picked up in newly bottled whites, very distinct in some varieties, difficult to pick up in others
- Maturation characteristics – are the result of ageing in oak and natural bottle ageing eg: the vanilla cinnamon from oak maturation Some of the more common problems you can pick up on the nose include: sulfur – too much preservative, vinegar – excessive acetic acid, probably oxidized, sherry – wine has oxidized, probably a leaky cork, musty – bad cork.
4. Sip – Many of the tastes are really smells. Try holding your nose while tasting a wine. You’ll find there’s a lot less ‘taste’ in the wine. There are four primary tastes you can identify:
- Sweet – typically sugars, but alcohol and glycerol (the stuff you see running down the side of the glass, also called ‘legs’) can contribute to a sweet taste. If there is no sweetness in the wine, it’s referred to as a ‘dry’ wine. You’ll taste sweet on the tip of your tongue.
- Sour/acid – usually the taste of acids, you’ll feel this as a ‘softness’ on your teeth. Acids give the wine crispness and freshness. Without acids the wine will taste flat and dull. You’ll taste sour on the back inner sides of your tongue.
- Bitter – is usually found in oxidized wines. Easily confused with tannins. Tannins you can identify by having ‘squeaky’ teeth. The tannins come from the grape skins and seeds. Bitter you can taste across the back of your tongue. Tannins will soften with age particularly with the help of good oak.
- Salt – Not really an important tasting flavor in wines. Usually present as a salt of the acids in wines. You’ll taste saltiness on the front outer sides of your tongue.
5. Savor – what does the taste of wine left in your mouth feel like? A wine can have a short, medium or long aftertaste or finish. As a rough guide: short means the taste is gone in less than 10 seconds, medium is up to around 60 seconds and if you’re still tasting the wine after 60 seconds then it’s a long finish. If there’s an unpleasant acidy aftertaste then you probably won’t like the wine. If the long aftertaste leaves you with a pleasant taste then it’s probably going to be a wine you will have on your table.
DESCRIBING THE WINE
For many people, this is the most intimidating part of the wine tasting process. Fear not, no one at the winery tasting rooms expect you to be an expert. In fact, most people visiting wineries are casual drinkers. It’s totally acceptable to simply say that you like it or don’t like it. If you want to expand your knowledge of wine terms, you may consider using any of the terms listed in the “Wine Glossary”.
Pronouncing wine names can be tricky. To help you, check out the “Wine Pronunciation Guide”. The list of wines each have phonetic spelling which will help you pronounce the name of wines correctly.