Tips for the Novice: How to Taste Wine Like A Pro

For the wine lover, going to a wine tasting can be a fun and educational experience. For the novice, going to a wine tasting can be a very intimidating experience. I’m going to give you a few easy tips that will help you feel comfortable and help you to get the most out of your wine tasting experience.

  1. Don’t wear any perfume or scented beauty products on the day of your tasting! Believe it or not, your own perfume can interfere with your ability to smell the wine. Wine has it’s own floral and oak smells, as do perfumes. Your nose will be confused and you won’t be able to determine if the smells you smell are the wine or your own perfume. Also, the other people at the tasting will appreciate you not wearing perfume, because they can smell you too!
  2. You may want to bring a notebook, or a wine tasting journal. I used to carry a small notebook with me whenever I went wine tasting, but now I have found it easier to carry a wine tasting chart that I have made for myself. I have included it at the end of this article. Feel free to print it and take it with you, if you like. Some wineries will offer wine tasting grids or wine tasting pages, but sometimes it’s just easier to come up with your own system. If you take notes, it’s as if you can enjoy the wine over and over again, just by reading your notes. Okay, let’s be honest, reading your notes won’t be just as good as tasting the wine all over again, but it will certainly help you to remember which wines you liked, and then you can always look for them and buy more of your favorites.
  3. You’ll want to take a sip right away, but don’t. Stop. Hold the glass up to the light. Observe the color, of the wine. Is it magenta or a ruby red? Is it pale yellow or deep gold? Make some notes on the color. Observe if the color is consistent all the way to the edge of the glass? Or do you notice an amber color where the wine touches the edge of the glass, as in the case of some red wines. Look down into the glass. Can you see the stem of the glass through the wine? Can you read a paper through the wine? This will help you determine the intensity of the wine. Swirl the wine slowly around the edge of the glass. Hold the glass up and at an angle. Is the wine clear or murky looking? Make some notes on the density and weight of the wine. If you see wine running down the insides of the glass, that is called the “legs” of the wine. It will indicate to you how much alcohol is in the wine. This can be an indication of quality, but if you don’t see legs on the inside of the glass, it can still be a good wine, it just may perhaps have a lower alcohol content. Take some time to make some notes before moving on to the next step.
  4. Now that you’ve given the wine a good look, you’re ready to take a good sniff. Give the glass a swirl, but don’t bury your nose inside it. You want to hold your nose over the top of the glass. Take a few short sniffs, then put the glass down and allow the smells that your nose has picked up filter through to your brain.

         Here is a short list of aromas that you may recognize in wine:

  • Floral scents such as lavender, jasmine, rose petal, geranium
  • Citrus fruits such as grapefruit, lemon, orange, passion fruit.
  • Fruit smells, such as blackberry, blueberry, dried currant, plum, cherry, strawberry, apple, pear
  • Earthy scents, or stone such as limestone, clay, graphite
  • Wood smells such as toast, vanilla
  • Leather, chocolate, coffee or caramel
  • Food smells such as buttered popcorn, honey
  • Make some notes on the scents that you can smell in the wine you are tasting. Don’t worry, in the beginning days of my wine tasting experiences, I always said that it smelled like wine!!! The intriguing thing about wine, is that it doesn’t ever smell like grapes!!!
  1. Before you taste the wine, plan if you are going to spit or swallow. At wine tastings, professionals spit. Don’t feel shy about spitting. Just ask if they have a “spit bucket”. They always do. If you swallow, even just a few wines, your senses will be dulled as soon as you begin swallowing the wine. If you are going to taste very many wines at all or if you are driving, you should spit the wine out. Tasting wine is not drinking wine. Many amateurs get the two confused. But occasionally, I will make an exception and make the host feel good by telling them that their wine is just too good to spit out, and I will on occasion, swallow the wine at a tasting.
  2. Finally, the best part! Go ahead and taste the wine. Take a small sip, not a large mouthful, just a small sip of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if sucking it up through a straw. Ignore the stares of those around you! You not only look like a pro, you sound like a pro! The sucking simply aerates the wine and circulates it throughout your mouth. Then spit the wine into the spit bucket.

Ask yourself a few questions and jot down some notes on what you taste. Do you taste sweet? Sour? Bitter? Does it make your mouth feel wet or dry? Write that down. Do you taste the same things that you smelled? Chocolate, coffee, grapefruit, buttered popcorn? Swirl your glass just a little, and sip and suck, and spit again. You may notice that as you swirl the wine multiple times, the wine will change in flavor. Continue tasting and continue making notes.

Congratulations, you are now tasting like a pro!  Enjoy your tasting! Cheers!

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