Wine tasting is not just like art, it is an art. While wine tasting can be subjective in nature, wine connoisseurs follow some general "guidelines" when judging a wine. It is very easy to learn the techniques of wine tasting, and if you already enjoy wine, learning the nuances will increase the pleasure you derive from tasting.
Don’t forget that the enjoyment of wine is a very personal thing. We hope these tips will increase your enjoyment and understanding of wine.
The three steps in wine tasting are: Look, Smell, and Taste.
You can tell much about a wine simply by studying its appearance. The wine should be poured into a clear glass and held in front of a white background (a tablecloth or piece of paper will serve nicely) so that you can examine the color.
The color of wine varies tremendously, even within the same type of wine. For example, white wines are not actually white; they range from green to yellow to brown. More color in a white wine usually indicates more flavor and age, although a brown wine may have gone bad. While time improves many red wines, it ruins most white wines. Red wines are not just red; they range from a pale red to a deep brown red, usually becoming lighter in color as they age.
- Rim Color: You can guess the age of a red wine by observing its "rim." Tilt the glass slightly and look at the edge of the wine. A purple tint may indicate youth while orange to brown indicates maturity.
- Swirling: Swirling the wine serves many purposes, but visually it allows you to observe the body of the wine. "Good legs" may indicate a thicker body and a higher alcohol content and/or sweetness level.
The point of swirling is to introduce oxygen in the wine to help release the aroma, also called the bouquet or nose. The two main techniques that wine tasters use are:
- Take a quick whiff and formulate an initial impression, then take a second deeper whiff or
- Take only one deep whiff.
Either way, after you smell the wine, sit back and contemplate the aroma. Don't try to "taste" the wine yet, concentrate only on what you smell.
It may be difficult to describe in words when you're a novice, but after trying many wines you will notice similarities and differences. Sometimes a certain aroma will be very strong with underlying hints of other smells. Take your time. By labeling an aroma you will probably remember it better. You may even want to keep a notebook of your impressions of wines, and save the labels; next time you see the wine you won't have to purchase it to know if you like it . . . or you don't!
The most important quality of a wine is its balance between sweetness and acidity. To get the full taste of a wine follow the following three steps:
- Initial taste (or first impression): This is where the wine awakens your senses (your taste buds respond to sensations).
- Taste: Swish the wine around in your mouth and draw in some air (even if you do look funny in front of your dinner guests). The key to the swish is to distribute the flavor of the wine to every part of your mouth. Examine the body and texture of the wine. Is it light or rich? Smooth or harsh?
- Aftertaste: The taste that remains in your mouth after you have swallowed the wine. How long did the taste last? Was it pleasant?
After tasting the wine, take a moment to value its overall flavor and balance. Is the taste appropriate for that type of wine? If the wine is very dry, is it supposed to be?
Swallow or Spit
When tasting a number of wines, spitting into a cup or bucket is always a good idea. This may be unsightly and occasionally sloppy (good spitting, like swirling, is an acquired skill), but it will preserve your capacity to consider wine rationally for as long as the afternoon or evening dictates. Save the drinking for dinner.
Some serious wine connoisseurs assign a point score to a wine to determine its quality. While this method can be useful, it is in no way necessary to determine a quality wine. The more different wines you try, and the more attention you pay to each wine, the better you will become at ascertaining and describing each wine's characteristics.
Most importantly have fun and enjoy the tasting!