More on How to Taste Wine

Everyone knows how to drink wine, but most of us don’t really know much about tasting.  Tasting, with all the rather pretentious motions, simply helps us to remember a wine so that we can categorize it, pair it, and buy it or not buy it again.  Professionals take this very seriously, and indeed, there is much to learn from every glass, however, a streamlined process will do just fine.

1. Look for faults:  In decent light, hold a clear glass of wine up against something white, and take a good look. First, check for the color brown. Unless it is seriously aged, white or red wines that have faded to brown are oxidized or cooked, and not at all tasty.  Second, if it is a still wine, there should not be champagne-like bubbles. That indicates an unwanted secondary fermentation which is, again, not tasty. Some whites like vino verde have a slight spritz on the tongue, but they don’t really sparkle.  Finally, check the clarity. If the wine is cloudy, particularly a white, it could be faulty. A little sediment is okay, but wines should, for the most part, have a translucent quality.

2. Swirl to release aromas.  Unlike coffee, wine does not give up its aromas easily.  You have to work for them. Swirling allows the wine to evaporate and release its scents.  To minimize pretentions and spills keep the glass on the table, hold it by the stem between you fingers, and make a few quick circles.  If nothing else, you’ll get better service in a restaurant.

3. Now, smell deeply for faults and flavors.  The faults will be obvious. If you get a whiff of mold, funky basement, wet dog,  it is probably corked, and not at all what the winemaker intended.  Return it without hesitation. If you don’t get a pronounced bad smell, take another whiff and concentrate.  Get anything?  I know it smells like wine, but search for something else.  With a little practice and training, you will notice other aromas. The fermentation process creates compounds that mimic or replicate
substances found elsewhere, so you can detect them if you pay close
  Then to really heighten your memory, try to connect the scent to something familiar. Often we think of natural substances like fruit, grass, butter, spices, and the like. Finally, whether or not you can name any particular scent, I guarantee you will enjoy the wine more if you take time to smell it. A great deal of what you taste actually comes from what you smell. The tongue can detect 6 elements, but the nose recognizes over 10,000.

4. Taste for sweetness, acidity, tannins, flavors and weight.
Though many rave about wine’s jewel-like colors, and exquisite bouquets, you can not enjoy it with just your eyes and nose. You must bring it to your lips and take a big sip. Don’t be coy; you need to get your whole mouth into the act because each part tells you something different. The tip of the tongue detects sweetness, the sides detect
acidity, the back detects bitterness, and the middle detects body or
weight, and flavors. The insides of your cheeks and gums, meanwhile, perceive
astringency or tannins. So, swish away and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you detect any sweetness on the tip of your tongue?  If not, the wine is dry, most are.
  • Do you notice any tingling on the sides of your tongue or salivating? That’s the acidity.  All wines need some or they will feel boring or flabby.
  • If it is a red wine, do you detect a drying sensation on your gums or cheeks. Does the inside of your mouth feel soft or a bit like velvet, suede or sandpaper.  That’s from the tannins which are very lovely when combined with steak or cheese.
  • How heavy does the wine feel?  Is it like skim milk (light-bodied), whole milk (medium-bodied) or heavy cream (full-bodied)?   The body corresponds to the alcohol content, and is even more important than color in pairing with food.  Heavier dishes need a nice full bodied wine, and lighter dishes do best with light wines.
  • Now, what are the flavors?  Lemony, grassy, or are there hints of coffee, black plum?   Choose a few familiar ones so that you can recall them when thinking about pairing food.  For example, if you note a little herbal quality, it may be a good match for a vegetable dish.

5. Finally, access and judge.  After you swallow (or, sadly, spit) consider. Is the wine balanced or does it have too much of one element?  How’s the aftertaste or the finish?  Great wines always have a lasting and pleasing end. Next, check the price, is it a good value?   And last but not least, ask yourself the most important question of all: Do I like this wine?

No need to do every step every time you drink wine, but if the glass is in front of you anyway, give it a swirl and see what you get.  So what it take a little training, the homework is so good.  Be well, hj