Wine Tasting Tips
Prior to tasting a wine, ensure that the wine is at the right temperature. The right choice of glass enhances the taste and increases your appreciation of a wine. Start with a clear, thin glass with stem and the rim of the glass should bend inwards to help funnel aromas to the nose, and allow you to swirl without spilling. Never hold the glass by its bowl, only by its stem.
Now pour a little wine into your glass. The norm is to pour no more than a third full of the glass or till where the glass bowl starts to fill out. Filling more causes the wine to spill while swirling. However an inch or less is best especially if you are tasting several wines, and begin with the lightest (sparkling wines, roses, then light whites followed by full-bodied whites) and progress to the heaviest (light reds to more full-bodied reds followed by dessert wines). This will help keep your taste buds more sensitive so you can better appreciate each wine in the series. A sip of water between wines can also help preserve your palate. And if tasting several vintages of the same wine, taste the youngest wines first.
Taste the wine before any other food to get a real perception of its flavors.
First notice the color of the wine. It often helps to hold the glass up to light or hold it against a white background. A wine’s color gives many clues to its character; it reflects the specific variety of grape (or grapes) the wine is made from. Color is influenced by growing conditions in the vineyard. A warm summer and dry autumn produce grapes that are fully ripe, with a high ratio of skin to juice, resulting in dark colors. A cool summer or a rainy harvest can result in unripe or diluted grapes, which will show up in colors with lighter hues and less intensity.
Vinification techniques can also affect color. The color can also give you a clue as to the age of the wine. White wines generally gain color as they age. Red wines lose color. That is, young red wines are more red or burgundy while older wines tend to show a hint of tawny brown around the rim.
Swirl the wine gently, a couple of times by moving the glass in a circular motion. Swirling is done to aerate the wine and release vapors, evaporating from the sides of the glass, for you to smell.
Then put your nose right over the rim of the wine glass and breathe in. Take note of the wine’s aromas and bouquet. Aroma is present in the grapes and in the wine from the time it is first made. Bouquet is an additional, pleasant characteristic that develops only in the bottle, many months or years after bottling. Thus, generally, aroma is the smell of a young wine and bouquet is the smell of a mature wine. Smells of vanilla, butter toast and certain spices are results of wine aged in oak barrels. Different oaks impart different smells and flavors to wine. Crisp, clean smells indicate that the wine hasn’t been aged in oak barrels at all while wines lacking in fruit scents indicate that it is either very young or very old.
In general, wine grapes have a tendency to pick up the flavors of the soil and whatever is in the surrounding environment as they grow in the vineyard. So you may encounter the scent of roses, jasmine, violets or eucalyptus – and it will not be your imagination.
Anything that smells moldy or like a chemical is an off – odor. These are BAD odors that usually mean the wine has undergone some undesirable chemical or microbiological change.
Sip, and sip slowly letting the wine spread across the tongue from front to back and side to side to ensure that the wine coats the whole mouth, before swallowing. If you are tasting a number of wines – in a winery tasting room, for example – your host will usually provide a large container for you to spit out the wine instead of swallowing. It is not rude or gross.
The tongue basically identifies 4 basic flavors – sweetness at the front, sourness or acidity at the sides, saltiness in between and bitterness at the back. By moving the wine around the mouth and the tongue, you can taste and appreciate all aspects of the wine.