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How to Taste Wine

The 'How to Taste Wine' routine is a learning phase that every wine drinker has to go through. Wine Tasting is different than wine drinking. Most of the time we drink our wine and enjoy it with friends and food. After all, wine is a beverage that is part of a positive lifestyle.

On occasion, we taste wine instead of just drinking it. When we Taste Wine, we are paying particular attention to what our senses can tell us about the wine. Consuming wine gives us feedback from 4 of our senses: sight, smell, taste and touch.

Establish a simple routine
Wine Tasting is easier if you have a simple routine you use with each wine. The routine should step you through each of your senses and guide you along the way. Sight, Smell, Taste, Touch. After you've done this with enough wines, it will just become natural and you will not even think about the steps.

I. Sight - Look at the wine.

  • Use a white background in good light and look through the wine.  It should be clear and brilliant. 
  • If it is clouded, that is a fault in the wine. If it is hazy or cloudy, the cause could be as simple as sediment that has been stirred or it could be from poor winemaking. If it is sediment, it will settle in about a day but you should not drink the wine until then.
  • The color and clarity will vary based on the grape variety, winemaking procedures, age and previous storage conditions of the wine.
  • White wines will vary from almost water-clear to greenish-gold to straw to slightly browning. 
  • Red wines are usually ruby red or purple in their youth but gain brown tinges as they age. 
  • When tasting red wines, tilt the glass and look at the edges.  There is a noticeable color loss around the edges as the wine grows older.
  • II.  Check the bouquet.
  • Most of what you perceive as 'taste' is actually a result of your sense of smell.  
  • Swirl the wine in the glass.  This spreads the wine over a greater surface area and allows more wine to evaporate.  This releases more aromas in the glass.
  • Put the glass close to your nose and sniff the wine.  It's not rocket science, just smell the wine and try to associate words with what you smell.  Is it earthy or herbal or floral or does it smell like old gym socks?  
  • Each grape variety will exhibit specific aromas consistently.  Try to become familiar with them as you taste through various wines.
  • Wines that have been aged in oak will often have vanilla overtones.  Chardonnays with a 'buttery' smell have undergone malolactic fermentation.
  • Many red wines will have the smell of berries or cherries.  Older red wines may have cedar or tobacco nuances.
  • White wines may develop the aroma of apples or citrus fruits or even tropical fruits.  Sauvignon Blanc sometimes have grassy or herbal smells
  • The strength of the aroma of a wine will be more subdued in a wine that is chilled.  Some wines will not have much aroma at all.
  • Smell the wine several times.   In a complex wine you will find new aromas with each sniff.
  • Different wines will have different smells depending on the grape variety from which they were made, how they were made, their age and current condition.  
  • There are a few smells that you hope not to find in a wine.  They may be the result of bad winemaking, poor storage conditions or a faulty cork.  Smells of vinegar or sulfur indicate poor winemaking while a mustiness can be a sign of a poor cork.

III  Evaluate the taste.

  • Take a sip of the wine in your mouth and spread it around.  Then whistle in reverse to evaporate wine in all parts of your mouth at once.  This will give you an immediate overall impression of the tastes.
  • There are really only four things you can taste:  sweetness, acidity, bitterness and saltiness.  Since wine (other than Cooking Sherry) will not have salt, we can narrow the tastes down to three items.
  • Sweetness (if present) will be noticed on the very front of your tongue.  If there is no sweetness there, the wine is dry.  Your mind will sometimes translate a particularly fruity wine as being sweet since those characteristics are often found together; but, if you cannot taste the sweetness at the front of your tongue the wine is dry.
  • Acidity or crispness will be noticed along the sides of your tongue and can also be detected by the fact that higher acid wines cause an increase in the production of saliva in your mouth.  Acidity is beneficial in the digestion of food and higher acid wines cut through fish oils.  In a sweet wine, acid is necessary  to keep the wine lively and more than just like having a sugar cube in your mouth.
  • Bitterness is found in the back of your mouth and the top of the throat.  This bitterness in red wines is often caused by the presence of tannin.  In especially young Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Bordeaux wines, it may cause a puckering or drying (cotton-mouth) in your mouth.  This type of bitterness will diminish and mellow as the wine ages.  
  • If you pick up a hot sensation or sharpness in the back of your mouth, it might be that you are tasting a wine with a high level of alcohol or a wine that is served too warm.  Alcohol will begin to bite at about 74 F. degrees.

IV Pay attention to the 'Touch'

Body, full or thin? Spritz & effervescence? fruity? smooth or rough? Legs - alcohol and glycerol.
Make a mental note of anything that is special or outstanding.

Deal with smells - spicy, apple, pear and all the other wine words. talk about the levels of sweetness - medium dry. Fruity versus sweetness. flavor or lack of it.

Balance - overpowering component, flabby.

The finish - long and lingering - how long isit?