Here’s a guest post from Jeremy about how to taste wines. There’s also a brief video at the end illustrating the tasting technique.
Wine tasting can be many things for many people, and you shouldn’t let anyone bully you into thinking that you necessarily have to approach it in one way or another. If you really want to learn about the wine you’re tasting, however, then you’ll probably want to incorporate some traditional techniques into your tasting, since these techniques are designed to allow a taster to better taste, evaluate, and hopefully describe any wine they taste.
Below are the steps that I recommend you follow if you’re a fairly inexperienced wine taster. You could eventually add any number of complicated nuances to what I’ve written below, but if you follow these steps and learn from them, you’ll actually be way ahead of many people who think they know a lot about wine.
Step 1: Take a Look at the Wine
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they can (or that you should be able to) identify 732 different characteristics just from looking at a glass of wine. Realistically, you can’t tell very much from just looking. However, if a wine has serious problems, then looking at the wine might be the first clue. Particularly if a wine looks hazy or cloudy, then it may have problems.
To properly look at a wine, you need a well lit room, you want to hold the glass at about a 45-60 degree angle (obviously without spilling the wine), and you want to look down through the wine against a white or very light background. Again, though, looking at the wine is the step that is going to tell you the least about the wine. Don’t worry right now about describing the intensity or specific color of the wine. You can always pick that up later.
Step 2: Smell the Wine
This should be an incredibly enjoyable step, and one that you take your time on before actually putting the wine in your mouth. Wines are often differentiated more by their "nose" (the aromas you smell from the wine) than by their "palate" (the tastes you experience from a wine).
To smell a wine, start by gently swirling the wine in the glass. Swirling wine causes it to come into contact with more air (oxygen) and more aromas are released this way. Immediately after swirling, bring the glass up to your nose, and actually stick your nose into the glass just a bit. (The video below illustrates these actions.) There are a few things that you’re going to smell for, but I strongly suggest thinking about one at a time. The point is just to classify/describe each characteristic of a wine, and not to judge or evaluate the wine.
The thing to remember is that you don’t need to smell every aroma, but if you find only one, then smell again, because most wines will have at least a couple. I suggest smelling at least 4 times, asking yourself each time if you smell anything from each of the categories above, one by one.
Step 3: Sip the Wine
After smelling, it’s time to sip. Note that I didn’t say drink, as most wine tasters don’t actually every swallow the wine, since they want to remain alert in order to properly taste. Feel free to disregard the no-swallow rule if you want, although it does become hard to remember anything (or even write very well) after a few wines.
Describing the ‘palate’ of a wine is perhaps the most difficult part. When you sip a wine, take a relatively small amount into your mouth, breathe in a little air if you can, and then swirl the wine around in your mouth. As with smelling, there are several characteristics you’ll want to look for, but again, it’s probably best to start by looking for one at a time.
One HUGE NOTE: If you eat or drink anything else before or while tasting a wine, it will dramatically affect and change the palate of the wine. For instance, almost no wine will taste sweet at all if you’re eating cotton candy with it. Just keep it in mind.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to think about while the wine is in your mouth. When you’re starting out, I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to think about one characteristic at a time. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot.
Step 4: Quality/Appreciation
Really, you can stop with step 3, or else create your own step 4. If you’re really serious about learning about wine, then the next step is to learn to make objective judgments about the quality of the wine. However, this is particularly tough when you’re just starting out.
Now Watch the Video
Watch the short video below where Jeremy explains how wine tasting works.