Tasting wine can be broken into 3 simple categories - sight, smell, and taste.
Sight: Look at the Wine!
Drinking wine is just as much about the visual as it is about the physical - so look at your wine. If you take the time to look for certain things in your glass - each tasting will be like a little lesson into the complexities of wine. So just slow down and awake your senses. Look at the wine and ask yourself:
- What color is it? Look beyond red, white or rose.
- If it's a red wine is the color maroon, purple, garnet, red or even brown?
- If it's a white wine is it clear, straw - like, golden, light green, pale yellow or even brown?
- Is the wine clear, cloudy, transparent or opaque?
- Tilt your glass a bit, hold it to the light, and swirl it.
- Then look again is there sediment, cork or any other floating bits?
This will tell you about the age of the wine.
Now look at the legs. The legs make the first impression and help you understand the 'body' of the wine. Determining the 'body' of a wine and the differences between a light-bodied wine and a full-bodied wine is very simple and totally fool proof.
A wine's body is directly related to its alcohol content or alcohol by volume (ABV). On every wine label you?ll notice a percentage of alcohol by volume and this is generally how you can measure the body:
- 7.5% - 10.5% indicates light body
- 10.5% - 12.5% indicates medium body
- 12.5% and over indicates full body
When you have your wine start moving it around. The best way to do this is by placing the glass on a flat surface and moving it in a circular motion without taking the glass off the table. As you let the swirl settle, notice the extent to which the wine sticks to the side of the glass.
Light-bodied wines will typically not leave many legs or any trace, whereas a full-bodied wine will leave obvious streams (or legs) that fall slowly down the side and back into the wine.
By doing all of this you just determined the ballpark alcohol level and age of the wine without even smelling or tasting the wine.
Smell: Stick your nose in there!
When you're moving the wine around in your glass, take a whiff. Our sense of smell is critical in properly tasting wine. Stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. Do not be shy. Get the whole nose in there. Do you smell oak, vanilla, berry, flowers, citrus? What is the general aroma? Any tar?
A wine's aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics of the wine. It will also tell you if the wine is good or corked.
Taste: Go Ahead and Swallow!
After you've looked and smelled the wine, it's time to taste.
Let it roll from the front of your tongue to the back - as you will have different reactions to the wine at different tasting areas on your tongue.
Allow yourself a small breath of air in through your lips and allow the wine to mingle with the air (called swirling). You can even suck in some air and roll the wine around - be a pro!
So what do you taste? Reds will often have berry, woody, oak, vanilla, and pepper or spicy tastes. White wines will often have apple, floral or citrus flavors associated with them.
Taste can also be broken down into two main categories:
Initial taste is the first impression you get of the wine?s components and flavors. How the wine lingers in your mouth, the acidity, the immediate flavors.
The wine's finish is how long the flavor lasts after it is swallowed.
- Did it last several seconds, minutes?
- Was it light-bodied (like water) or full-bodied (like milk)?
- Was the wine acidic?
Acidity is quite literally the juice behind the wine. It can make your lips pucker or body go into a pleasurable tail spin. Without it, wines would have no base, no taste, and be flat and boring. Acidity makes the wine stand out and the element of wine that you would describe as tangy, sharp, refreshing, bracing, bright, crisp or zingy is the acidity.
Wine is constantly evolving - especially in the glass. So give it time and be patient. You won?t be disappointed.
Tips on throwing a Wine Tasting Party
Helpful wine tasting terms
The Aroma Wheel
Download a Tasting & Scoring Sheet in PDF format