Wine tasting can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Some people seem to think that you need a sommelier certification, a thesaurus, and a degree in oenology and viticulture.
But all you really need is some wine, a glass and your taste buds. Taste is subjective. Most people are going to taste things differently, and that’s okay. In this article, we’ll show you the three fundamentals of tasting wine.
Wine Tasting Is Not A Race
It’s not a race to see who gets to the bottom of the glass first, nor is it a race to see who guesses the varietal or blend fastest. Tasting wine is like test-driving a car. Sure, you can go fast. But the salesman in the passenger seat might not appreciate that, and you may be asked to leave. You’re really trying to find out how it handles; if it’s comfortable; if it’s worth the money; even how it smells.
When we taste wine, we want to take our time and savor the flavors on our tongues. And not just the taste, but the feel of it on our tongue, our palate, and our teeth. We want to smell it as it swirls and opens in the glass.
We’re not just drinking the wine. We are experiencing the wine. That may sound a little silly, so let’s put it another way. We are trying to see if there are elements of the wine that we enjoy or find interesting.
So, you’ve listened to us bloviate about the intricacies of the experience. Now, how do you do it?
Either you or your bartender should pour a relatively small amount into your glass, around one to three ounces. A little will do, especially if you’re going to be tasting more than one variety.
Now you’re going to swirl the wine around your glass. Pretend there’s a marble in your glass and you’re trying to get it to go around in a circle. We don’t just do this to look extra fancy (although it does make us look extra fancy).
We swirl to get air to mingle with the liquid and allow the wine to open up. This releases the aromas present in the wine, and the agitation of the swirl lets those aromas fill the glass.
(For a quick rundown on different types of wine glasses and how they affect tasting, check out our article on the subject, right here.)
With the swirl technique, we get a full-bodied whiff of the wine before we taste. This ensures we get the full experience when we do take a sip. Most wine nerds agree, though: no more than ten seconds is required to get a tasting-sized pour of wine to open up.
If you plan on drinking more than just a taste, you might as well allow the whole bottle to open up by decanting. Check out the Charging Bull Wine Decanter or the Magellan’s Victoria Decanter if you’re feeling worldly.
For a deep dive into swirling, check out this article at Yao Family Wines.
Our sense of smell plays a huge part in how we taste. In order to experience every little note of the wine, we need our noses to be just as engaged as our tongues. Now that you’ve given your wine a good swirl, your wine glass should be full of aroma.
Don’t worry about looking silly, now. This is about the wine, and what’s more important than wine? Hold the stem and tilt the glass toward your face, then place the rim of the glass against the bridge of your nose. This way, your entire nose and mouth are in the glass and you can get a full breath of the aromas that have built. Some people like to alternate between smelling with their mouth open and closed. Whichever way works best for you is fine.
What you’re looking for here are specific aromas in the wine. What does it remind you of? Do you smell cherries? Vanilla? Old mushrooms? Cat urine? Those are all notes that you can find in many wines. The last two may be for more seasoned wine drinkers, but you get the point.
Something we like to recommend is that you refrain from looking at any tasting notes before trying the wine. This way you can have a pure experience, free of any preconceived notions. It can be really interesting (and a lot of fun) to see what you find. It’s also interesting to see if what you found matches up with notes others have found.
This is the best part. You’ve opened up the wine with your expert swirling; you’ve taken in the wonderful aromas of oak, vanilla and what-have-you. Now you take a sip. Not a drink, not a chug. A sip.
Don’t swallow it, either! You want that sip of wine to coat the inside of your mouth, your tongue, and your teeth. Roll it around and savor it. Then you get to swallow. Even after you’ve finished that sip, take note of the flavors that linger in your mouth and the sensation that remains on your tongue.
The initial vanilla and oak are all there, but they’ve changed. Either they have become more pronounced and defined, or they may have disappeared entirely. You’ve successfully combined the aromas and the flavors of the wine and your mind puts it all together into a complex and wonderful experience. Or maybe you hated it. That is definitely a part of wine tasting. Sometimes you have to taste a few duds before you find something that really resonates with you. Keep in mind, the purpose of tasting isn’t to declare whether a wine is “good” or “bad.” It’s about finding what you like.
To Spit or To Swallow
It all depends on your plans for the rest of the day, or if you are actually trying to taste multiple wines in order to make a purchase. The more wine you drink, the more difficult it becomes to detect the differences between each one. When that buzz starts to hit, your brain no longer cares about nuance.
There is a stigma surrounding spitting that we see quite often in tasting rooms everywhere. They think it’s gross or uncool, but we say that it is totally cool. It allows you to experience more wines before that buzz creeps up on you and it shows some serious discipline when tasting amazing wines. For an in-depth tutorial on how to spit, check out this article at winefolly.com.
Again, it all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to taste wine so you can learn about wine and buy wines that you truly love, or are you just trying to get sauced before dinner? (No judgment here. We’ve been guilty of both.)
If you’ve followed our tips and found them helpful, why not drop us a comment below? What interesting wine notes did you discover for the first time?