- Wine Tasting Tips
Start with a clear wine glass. The rim of the glass should
bend inwards to help funnel aromas to the nose, and allow
you to swirl without spilling on your $50 tie. Never hold
the glass by its bowl, only by its stem.
Now pour a little wine into your glass. An
inch or less is best. If you are tasting several wines,
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
First notice the color of the wine. It
often helps to hold the glass up to light or hold it against
a white background, like a white napkin. The color can 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. Regardless of
age, the colors of wine are just fun to see, ranging from
pale yellow-green to ruby red to brick red-brown.
Swirl the wine 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. Then sip, letting the wine spread across
the tongue from front to back and side to side 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. Everyone in
the wine trade is accustomed to the
swirl-sniff-sip-slosh-and-spit routine. No one wants an
intoxicated taster or --worse -- an intoxicated driver.
The bottom line is that a good wine should
always give pleasure. It should smell good, taste even
better, and be smooth and satisfying by itself and/or with
whatever you're eating. Simple as that!
Wine Tasting Journals
Taking notes is a good idea. This will
help you remember your likes and dislikes over time. It can
also be helpful in learning how to describe the sensations
you're feeling. A wine journal can be used to track how a
wine is developing, for example, if you buy a case of a
particular wine and open a bottle periodically every six
months or every year. Finally, you can share your tasting
notes with others, as many of our WineBoard members do.
Wine Tasting Notes and Wine
Wine tasting notes are usually made to
help you evaluate a wine to see whether you like it or to
evaluate how a wine is progressing in aging. But what kind
of notes do you want to make? What are you looking for when
tasting a wine? Here are a few pointers, although there are
no hard and fast rules.
1) Nose, bouquet, aroma, or
These are all terms that describe how the
wine smells to you. Does it remind you of a flower scent?
Then it can be called "floral". It may be "grassy" like a
freshly mown lawn. Or it may come across as fruity, like a
cherry or strawberry or melon might smell. Imagine yourself
in nature and see if the scent is something growing around
you, like eucalyptus. Or imagine yourself in the produce
section of your local supermarket. Does the wine make you
feel like you're standing near a bushel of pears or oranges?
Or does it take you somewhere else in the grocery store,
i.e. reminding you of nuts, chocolate, coffee or
butterscotch? Or it may just smell like grapes! Write down
whatever associations, if any, you sense. If it helps to
write down "Smells like vinyl car seats on a hot day" then
write that down. The basic idea is to help you remember the
Some varieties of wine grapes are known
for their aromatic aromas. Viognier, for example, usually
has a very floral scent reminiscent of exotic flowers like
gardenia, freesia, or jasmine often with a hint of ripe
peaches or apricots. Chardonnay, on the other hand, is often
described as appley, nutty, toasty, and sometimes pear-like
or even pineappley depending on where it is grown. In
general, winegrapes have a tendency to pick up the flavors
of the soil and whatever is in the surrounding environment
as they grow in the vineyard (terrior).
So you may encounter the scent of roses, jasmine, violets or
eucalyptus -- and it will not be your imagination.
Anything that tastes 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. Forget that wine! Dump it.
Sometimes you will find that a wine
doesn't have a nose or bouquet at all. It can still be a
good, very drinkable wine -- albeit most award-winning wines
have both a nice bouquet and great taste.
What's the difference between aroma 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.
2) Tasting the Wine
Tasting for Sweetness
- The first thing you will probably notice is the relative
sweetness or dryness of the wine. This is determined by the
amount of natural sugar in the wine. Is it pleasant or
overbearingly sweet, i.e. cloying? High alcohol content also
makes wine taste sweet.
Tasting for Acidity
- Another sensation you will notice almost immediately is
the tartness or acidity of the wine. Just think of the
difference between grapefuit juice and water. Acid may sound
harsh but it is very important in making wine taste crisp
and fresh. If there is too much acid, the wine will taste
bitter and unpleasently sharp. If there is not enough acid,
the wine will taste flabby and flat, like day-old beer in a
Tasting for Tannin
- If you are drinking red wine, you may also notice the
tannins in the wine. Tannin is a chemical that comes from
the stalks, pips and skins of red grapes. It tastes
astringent and "mouth-drying", and makes your mouth
"pucker". There are many kinds of tannin. Some tannins taste
bitter. You're probably familiar with tannin if you drink
strong black tea. Tannins are most noticeable in young red
wines. Over time, as wines age, tannins "soften" and give
the wine a certain full-bodied weightiness that is very
enjoyable. (Tannin is also found in the bark of trees, where
the taste protects the trees against insect infestations.)
Tasting for Alcohol
- Alcohol, of course, is found in all wine. A moderate
amount of alcohol in wine adds "sweetness" to the taste. If
the alcohol is too high and out of balance with the tannin
and fruit, and so on, then the wine will feel hot in your
mouth --like a dash of Tabasco-- and
difficult to drink.
Tasting for Fruit and Varietal Characteristics
- The more tasting you do, the more acquainted you will
become with the characteristic flavors of the major varietal
grapes. With experience, it becomes easier to discern the
flavors of the various varietal grapes -- Riesling,
Chardonnay, Sauvignong Blanc, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir,
The question is how prominent the fruit
flavors are in the wine. Young wines are often "fruity".
Fruit flavors are usually considered a positive component in
the quality of the wine. If you can't smell some kind of
fruit in the wine (cherry, raspberry, peach, melon, mango,
pineapple or whatever), then it is not a fruity wine.
Fruit is often confused with sweetness but
they are not even related. Sweetness in wine is determined
by the amount of residual sugar left in the wine after
fermentation. Dry wines with very low levels of residual
sugar and no discernable sweetness can taste very fruity.
Sweet wines can taste fruity or not. That is, 'fruit' may be
present or absent but it has nothing to do with the
sweetness of the wine.
Tasting for Body
- Body is a tasting term referring to viscosity, thickness,
consistency, or texture. A wine with "body" often has higher
alcohol or sugar content than other wines. Tannin, also, is
a major component of what we call "body" in wine.
A good way to comprehend the feeling of "body" or "weight"
in wine is to think of milk. Recall the difference in "mouthfeel"
between skim milk, whole milk, and heavy cream. Wines are
usually classified as "light-, medium-, or full-bodied".
Tasting for Aftertaste
- This is the sensation that lingers in your mouth just
after swallowing a sip of wine. Aftertaste is important in
wine tasting because it can reveal an extra attribute or a
fault. Sometimes certain flavors become noticeable in the
aftertaste, i.e. chocolate "in the finish". A long, pleasant
aftertaste, where all the components of the wine are in
balance is a sign of quality. On the other hand, an
aftertaste is undesirable in sparkling wines and champagne
which, ideally, should be crisp and clean with no lingering
aftertaste at all.
Overall Assessment -
When the aftertaste is gone, ask yourself
what your general impression is of the wine. Do you like it?
Do all the components seem to be in balance? If you think
the wine (especially young red wine) is too astringent,
consider that it might improve and mellow or "open up" with
age. Or is the wine ready to drink now? What kinds of food
might go nicely with this wine? If you want to assign it a
score of your own choosing, go ahead.
and Food Tasting Tip:
Here is a tasting tip from a long time
friend and wine connoisseur. Set out a variety of foods to
try with your wine(s), i.e. salami, cheese, seafood, cake,
chocolate, pickles, etc. First, take a sip of the wine and
taste as above. Then take another sip along with a bite of
food and chew. You'll find that some foods go with the wine
and some don't. Ideally, the wine and food together should
form a 'sauce' that is delightful and better tasting than
either the wine or the food alone. This is the mark of a
Confused? Wine tasting is harder to
describe than it is to do. We suggest just tasting as many
different wines as possible. Taste, experience, remember,
and above all, enjoy!