Wine tasting is one of the great joys of life, and the best thing is, you do not need to be a wine expert to be able to taste wine right. By tasting wine you are training your palate and increasing the likelihood you will remember the wine later on. A good tip to train up that nose is to get in the habit of smelling things at home: bowls of fruit, herbs, the spice drawer, ingredients when you cook etc.
Here are the 3 steps you need to follow to get the most out of your wines:
Step 1: Take a Look
Pour your wine into a glass and take a good look. Tilt it against a white background like a napkin or a piece of paper.
Check out the colour – is it pale or dark? Clarity – is it clear or cloudy? And ‘legs’ – does it cling to the side of the glass? The colour can indicate the amount of (grape) skin contact during the winemaking process or the age of the wine, the clarity could tell you whether the winemaker has clarified it or not (which can sometimes give more texture/character), and the legs could be a good indication of body from sugar or alcohol.
Step 2: Have a Smell
Swirl the wine in your glass. If you find it tricky to do in the air, rest it on the table and try from there. It is best done in a glass where the bowl is wider than the rim. Swirling the glass breaks the surface and allows the aromas to float up and gather at the top, where you can stick your nose in and have a good smell! There are 3 groups of characters to then identify.
Primary Characters: Your primary characters are fruit aromas such as citrus fruit, stone fruit or exotic fruit in white wines, and red fruit, black fruit, or blue fruit in red wines. Herbal and floral notes can also be included here.
Secondary Characters: These include any aromas that specifically come from the winemaking process. The most common wood used for making wine barrels is oak which could contribute notes of vanilla or toast, whilst yeast ageing during the fermentation process could give notes of bread, brioche, or nutty almond.
Tertiary Characters: The tertiary characters come from age. In white wines these could express themselves as honey, marmalade, or walnuts. In red wines they can come out as leather, tobacco, or forest floor.
Step 3: Have a Taste
The last step is to taste! On the tongue is where we can detect sweet, salty, bitter & sour. Look out for these as they can give you an indication of grape variety.
A good way to taste is to take a sip and hold the wine on your tongue. Try to whistle backwards bringing air in so that it bubbles over the top of the wine. This will allow the air to reach the back of the throat and up into your nose. Then have a good swirl around, coating the mouth. Swallow and measure how long the flavours persist on your palate. This is known as the wine’s length.
Look out for acidity (how much does your mouth water?) and tannin which is what leaves your mouth feeling dry and is mainly associated with red wines. Is it light and refreshing or big and rich? Most importantly, do you like it?
Don’t worry if you feel lost at the beginning. As you taste more wines, you will start to notice the different colours, smells and tastes you get from different wines and grape varieties. And if you try a couple of wines at the same time, these differences will be more obvious, and you will start to quickly learn what you like and don’t like, and what you are looking for in your next glass.
We’ve written tasting notes for lots of the products on our site, so why don’t you see how your taste buds compare to ours? View our tasting notes.