Wine 101 – Basics of Wine Tasting

by on February 28, 2012

Welcome to the first post in our Wine 101 series.

This post will cover only the most basic aspects of tasting wine, so it’s pretty short.  I don’t go into a lot of detail about what to taste or smell for, as that will be covered elsewhere, but you should feel comfortable after this video and post about how to taste a glass of wine.

Step 1: The Glass

Some people make a much bigger deal out of this than it should be, since you could drink and enjoy wine in any cup, glass, or mason jar you want to use.  However, if you want to properly taste a wine, your wine glass should have 2 main characteristics:

  1. Wide Bowl:  Your glass needs to have a wide bowl, so that you can properly swirl the wine.  The wide bowl also helps by forcing the wine to release more aromas (smells).
  2. Tapered Rim:  If your glass doesn’t have a tapered rim, then the aromas of the wine will more easily escape from the glass without you being able to smell them.

That’s pretty much it.  These glasses from Amazon will work just fine, and they’re only $19.79 for 12 glasses.

Step 2: Pouring the Wine

This is obviously not rocket science, but when you pour the wine, you only want to fill your glass about 1/4 of the way.  If you fill it too high, then you won’t be able to swirl the wine, and your wine also won’t be exposed to enough oxygen to properly release the aromas.

Step 3: Swirling the Wine

This is an important step and is not just something that people do to look pretentious (although I’m sure I know  few people who do it just for that reason).  Swirling the wine causes it to come into contact with more oxygen, which in turn causes the wine to release more aromas and smells.

The easiest way to swirl a wine and to avoid spilling it all over yourself is to leave the glass on a smooth surface (table or counter-top), and then use your hand to move the glass in small circles.  If you do it like this and your glass is not too full, then it’s almost impossible to spill the wine.

Step 4: Sniffing the Wine

After all of that, you finally get to smell the wine.  Throughout this series, I’ll be introducing some terms that are commonly used by people who drink a lot of wine, and the first of those terms is “nose”.  The nose of a wine is simply the way that the wine smells.

Immediately after swirling your glass, you want to raise it up to your nose, tilt the glass just a bit toward you, and then actually stick your nose into the glass and take a large breath.  I tend to do this a few times before I ever drink any of the wine to try to get some ideas about what I smell in the wine.

Step 5: Sipping the Wine

I really hope that everyone who is reading this has actually sipped a wine before.  If not, then please stop reading and come back after you’ve had a couple glasses.

When you sip the wine, put a fairly small amount in your mouth and swirl it around for a few seconds.  In the broadest terms possible, you want to start thinking about what flavors you taste, but also about how the wine feels in your mouth.  How thick does it feel, for instance?

Step 6: Swallow or Spit out the Wine

It’s true – people who are serious about tasting wine typically spit it out when they’re tasting.  I confess that I am one of these people.  But here is the caveat: I readily differentiate tasting wine from drinking wine, and I do a lot more of the latter than the former.

After the wine has left your mouth, you want to think a little bit more about the wine.  How long can you taste the flavors after the wine is no longer in your mouth?  Do your gums feel dry?  Does your mouth start to water?  These are all characteristics of wines that it’s good to start thinking about as early as possible.

That’s it for this lesson, but please leave any comments below, particularly any questions or any requests for topics to be covered!

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