Wine Sense’s Guide to Wine Tasting

“Wine, one sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise and taste.” John Milton, English poet (1608-1674)

Wine is often seen as an alcoholic beverage while being overlooked for many of its more subtle and enjoyable characteristics. As a result many people don’t fully experience the diversity that each wine has to offer. We can all drink a glass of wine. The question is did you really taste it? With the following information and a little practice, you will soon be able to experience everything that a wine has to offer. You will be able to better recognize the characteristics that you most enjoy in a wine and as a result, make more informed choices when picking your wine kits and matching wine with meals.

There are many ways to enhance your appreciation of wine. The best way is by learning how to taste it. Professional tasters tend to look for a white sterile environment. Although this is the best for analysis, some say it is at the cost of enjoyment. Perhaps the best way to enjoy wine is with your friends in a warm setting. This being said, we should still look for the same things that expert tasters examine. The following are major components to look for in a wine. Because after all, drinking wine is easy- tasting wine means drinking with a little knowledge and much more enjoyment. Wine Sense will provide you with the knowledge…you get to do the tasting!

Wine tasting is not a science so do not underestimate your potential to taste a wine. There is no right or wrong. You may really enjoy the wine you’re tasting- while the person next to you may not. Your friend may taste tobacco, while you taste leather (yes these components are found in wine). The important thing is you will be able to better appreciate what you taste. Remember- a good pallet is made not born!

Using your eyes

First examine the wine. Hold the glass against a white background (a white table cloth or a sheet of paper will do). What are you seeing? Young white wines have a pale yellow colour, while aged whites will be more golden in colour. Red wines on the other hand, lose colour as they age. A young red wine has bright purple colours, while older reds display a more ‘brick red’ appearance.

Using your nose

Sniffing wine is not done just for effect. Your nose is capable of smelling about 2,000 different scents and wine has 200 of its own! Smelling wine enhances its taste. By filling your nose with a wine’s bouquet, your taste buds will be able to identify more characteristics.

Wines smell of so many different things because the chemical compounds found in wine are found in many other substances. This is why wines are often described as flowery, fruity, nutty etc. When you think about it, very few wines are described as smelling like grapes!

The best way to get a sense of a wine is to swirl your glass. Although some may think it is pretentious, it does serve a very important purpose. Swirling wine releases esters, aldehydes and ethers combining them with oxygen to release the bouquet. To swirl your wine, simply keep the base of the glass on a table or flat surface and move it with your finger tips in a circular motion. This should allow the wine to climb up the side of the glass. Do not swirl so fast that the wine spills over. Before you know it you will not need the table and will be swirling your wine in mid-air, with your left hand, your right hand and maybe even behind your back. Once you have mastered the art of swirling it can become a bit habitual- so don’t be surprised if you start swirling your morning orange juice!

After swirling, put your nose into the bowl of the glass and take three deep sniffs. You will find the third smell will give you more than the first. Now try and recognize what you smell. What chemical compounds do you notice? Are they shared with other substances you are familiar with: citrus, chocolate, vanilla, leather, raspberries…?

Describing what you smell in a wine is always subjective (the same is true for describing what you taste). Different people have different senses of smell. As a result five different people may describe the bouquet of the same wine in five different ways. Nutty, woody, fruity, leathery, and flowery are just a few of the many, many words that can be used to describe a wine’s bouquet. The way you describe the wine is the way you perceive it.

Using your mouth

Now for the fun part- tasting your wine. Take a good mouthful of wine and move it around your mouth. You have to take time when tasting a wine and allow it to come in contact with the 5000 taste buds in your mouth. You need to chew the wine or roll it around your mouth before you swallow. Now draw some air between your lips. The oxygen will help release those same compounds sensed with your nose.

When tasting wine there are four components to look for…

Sweetness will be tasted on the tip of the tongue and is easily detectable.

Acidity is found In white wines and blushes, and to a lesser degree light red wines,; it will be tasted on the sides of the tongue, the cheeks and the back of the throat.

Tannins will be found in red wines and to a lesser degree white wines that have been oaked. Tannins are tasted in the middle of the tongue. If there are a lot of tannins in the wine you will get a “puckery” feeling in your mouth. This is an indication of a wine that needs aging.

Fruity and varietal characteristics are tasted in the middle of the tongue. This is where the characteristics of the grape or grapes will come through in the wine.

Once you have tasted all of these components, you will want to judge how they work in balance with one another.

Now savour the wine and ask the following questions:

Is the wine light, medium or full-bodied? (Think skim milk, whole milk, heavy cream.)

If it’s white, how is the acidity? (Too little, too much, just right.)

If it’s red, how is the tannin? (Too much and it could be too young- just right and wine is ready for drinking.)

What was the strongest component? (Sweetness, acidity, fruit, tannin.)

Is the wine well balanced for your taste?

Did you enjoy the wine?

What would you eat with it?

Now take your new found knowledge and put it to work. Grab a bottle of wine, your corkscrew, a few friends- and taste some wine!

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