Wine Tasting 101
Red or white? Dry or sweet? Oaked or unoaked? Whether it’s your first or one hundredth wine tasting, the anticipation is the same. You are intrigued, and you want to have a some fun sampling new and different wines. Part of what makes wine tasting—and ultimately picking out what you’ll take home for later-‐-‐ so fun is trying out the endless variations and combinations of flavors and techniques that make each glass unique. Sometimes all those possibilities can get a little overwhelming, and maybe you’re feeling a bit nervous about what to expect or perhaps what you think will be expected of you. Just relax and head directly into a tasting room–it’s the perfect place to learn all about the winery and the details of the wine. You will find a friendly staff, warm and welcoming, who enjoy teaching visitors about the wine and winery as much as you’ll enjoy learning. Each glass of wine has a story to share, and as a sampler, you’re in the prime position to get the full scoop. Simplify the selection process with a quick brush-‐up on “5 s’s”: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, and Savor. Whether you’re a budding connoisseur or a first-‐time sampler, you can use these tips to taste like a pro.
You can already tell if what’s in your glass is red or white, but which shade the wine is reveals important clues about its identity. Your wine is red, but look closely: is it a ruby red, a rusty red, or more of a maroon? Garnet? Purple? Maybe it’s almost brown. Is that white wine clear, or more of a golden hue? It could be light green or pale yellow, reminiscent of the color of straw, or it, too, could be a darker shade that borders on brown. Take a moment to study the color—taking notice of the hue at the rim, the sides and the middle of the glass—to help determine which types of grapes went into this wine and how long it was aged for, which hint at the taste before you even get to “sip”.
For example, aged red wines tend to be more translucent than their younger counterparts, with a deeper or bolder flavor. White wines with pale or greenish-‐hued features are usually lighter and zestier, while darker, golden-‐toned glasses may lend themselves more to descriptions like “buttery” or “rich”.
Now that you’re visually engaged with your wine, tilt the glass a little and give it a gentle swirl (use your wrist, not your whole arm, to avoid creating an accidental spin-‐art masterpiece on the countertop). This is not just for the sake of looking fancy to your companions: the swirling motion gets the particles of the wine moving and helps integrate some oxygen into it, which will bring out its natural aroma and taste. This is also a prime time to pick up clues on whether what you have is full-‐, medium-‐ or lighter-‐bodied. Observe the wine as it runs back into the bottom of the glass after you swirl; these are called the “legs” (or “tears”, if you’re feeling French or especially poetic), and their consistency gives you pre-‐tasting a clue to the wine’s body.
When the glass has been swirled, the bouquet comes out, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: the collection of natural aromas that the wine will release. Take your first quick whiff as soon as the glass is swirled for the very first hints of smell. Then, improper as it may seem, you can feel free to stick your nose right into the glass (don’t get it wet) and take a deep breath. What do you smell? It could be something very faint, almost breezy, or you may catch strong notes of oak, spices, fruits, flowers or other flavors. Take another whiff or two and compare. Are more elements rising to the surface as you smell? These are all clues to what the wine will taste like.
You’ve seen, swirled and smelled your wine, and now it’s finally time to taste. The first sip has subtle secrets of its own to share. Take a small sip and hold it in your mouth for a moment. Roll it around your tongue, paying attention to the flavors unfolding. Then take a small breath of air and swirl the wine around in your mouth—much like swirling in the glass, this method of incorporating oxygen will open up the wine’s flavor even more. Some questions to consider: Does the wine taste like it smelled? Did that flavor change when you swirled it? Do you notice any one element more than the others, like the oak or the spice? Did acidity or alcohol content make an impression? Take a second sip and evaluate your responses.
The final step in the tasting process, “savoring” refers to the process of revealing the wine’s final clues. Use all your taste buds to evaluate the balance and sweetness of the wine. You can swallow the wine or spit it out (a matter of personal preference), then breathe out slowly through your nose and mouth and pay attention to how long the wine’s aftertaste stays with you and whether it’s a sweet or bitter one. Higher-‐quality wines and wines that are more complex will stay with you the longest. Now is also a time to consider the overall experience of the wine, including whether you liked it, the elements you liked or disliked about it particularly, and which foods it might pair well with, to name a few.
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s palate is different. What you taste may not be what someone else tastes. Perhaps someone across the room tastes pineapple and you taste green apple. Remember, it’s okay! Don’t be hard on yourself or feel that others are being hard on you because you taste something different. Allow your tasting room staff to guide you and point you in certain directions by sharing what he or she notes about the wine, but remember that you will be encouraged to see, swirl, smell, sip, and savor for yourself. You may surprise yourself with how much you actually know.
Remember that the best way to approach a tasting is with an open mind and open palate. After all, you’re here to have a good time!