Learning how to taste wines is a straightforward adventure that will deepen your appreciation for both wines and winemakers. Look, smell and taste – starting with your basic senses and expanding from there you will learn how to taste wines like the pros in no time!
NOTE: sometimes you just like a wine, or you just don’t. We learn from both cases. While nowadays a bad bottle of wine is rare, it can happen(1). Tasting many different varieties of wine from various regions of the world helps you find which wines you like best.
Pour a glass of wine into a suitable wine glass. Then take a good look at the wine. What color is it? Look beyond red, white or blush. If it’s a red wine is the color maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, red or even brownish. If it’s a white wine is it clear, straw-like, golden, light green, pale yellow or brown in appearance?
Still Looking. Move on to the wine’s opacity. Is the wine clear, cloudy, transparent or opaque? Tilt your glass a bit, give it a little swirl – look again, you are looking at color, clarity, brilliance (sounds like you’re finding the perfect diamond!) – is there sediment, bits of cork or any other floating bits? An older red wine will be more translucent than younger red wines.
Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. To get a good impression of your wine’s aroma, gently swirl your glass (this will enhance the wine’s natural aromas) and then take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.
Still Smelling. Now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine’s aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Gently swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again.
Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your tongue. There are three stages of taste:
Taste – After gathering your initial impression of the wine, allow a small breath of air in through your lips and allow the wine to mingle with the air (called swirling). This will allow you to taste flavors more fully (even if you look or sound a bit funny). What do you taste? Reds will often have berry, woody and bell pepper tastes. White wines will often have apple, floral or citrus flavors associtated with them.
Initial Taste – This is your first impression of the wine’s components and flavors.
Finish – The wine’s finish is how long the flavor lasts after it is swallowed. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like water) or full-bodied (like the consistency of milk)?
After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine’s name, producer and year down for future reference.
(1) Falmouth Wine & Spirits return policy on wine purchases is that returns of flawed or “off” wines must be presented to the store manager. Accepted returns will be given a refund or replacement bottle of the same wine only.