Even if you’re a regular wine drinker, the process of wine tasting might seem a bit strange (or downright silly) to you. Is it even possible to eke out those vague nuances real wine tasters claim? Could the whole process be bullshit?
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, if you’re ordering wine at a half decent restaurant, the waiter (or sommelier, if you’re eating really upscale) will be pouring and presenting wine for you to taste. You could just scoff and ignore the whole process, or you could participate with the chance of learning a bit more about the beverage you’re about to imbibe.
Here’s the step-by-step guide to tasting wine, and what each step lends to the overall process:
Guide to Wine Tasting
Step 1: The Pour
If you’re eating out, your server will take care of this bit for you. But if you’re looking to give it a go at home, the pour is the first step. A good rule of thumb is for a tasting portion, you should aim for about half a normal serving. However, if you’re one of those people that likes drinking out of a full wine glass, aim for about two and no more than three ounces.
The reason you want to pour so little is because this means there will be less wine to aerate in the next step, allowing for a more complete oxidation that will liven the flavours. The other benefit is less wine means you can get a better sense of the colour and clarity than with a full pour.
Step 2: The Swirl
Before you sniff, you gotta swirl. First, tilt the glass left and right while holding it to a light. Look at the colour of the wine, especially towards the edges. This can indicate the age of the wine. If it’s turning an orangey-brown, you know your wine has seen a few years. It’s a good idea to take a look at the clear fluid running down glass too — called a wine’s “legs” these droplets can indicate a wines alcohol content. Slow and thick? You’re in for a boozy beverage.
Finally, place the bottom of the glass on the table and carefully swirl the wine around inside the glass so it coats the edges. This will rapidly introduce oxygen, allowing the wine to breathe and open up previously concealed flavours. This bit is especially important if you are pouring from a bottle instead of a decanter.
Step 3: The Sniff
My favourite part of wine tasting, the sniff is arguably the most informative when developing a profile of the wine you’re about to sip. It can seem a bit silly to some, but I highly encourage you to put your entire nose into the glass and inhale deeply. The bouquet is richest in the air within the glass, and this is the best way to access it.
Some serious wine tasters advise a method of short, sharp inhales. You can try this if you wish, although I’m dubious the average amateur wine taster is going to glean much more than an average inhaler. I like to take one long sniff, and try to see what smells I can detect.
Now, remember. This is the first part of the process where you’re actually going to start describing things that aren’t actually there. The wine is grapes, water and alcohol. If you say it smells like any one of those things, you’re not wrong, you’ve just missed the point. Ask yourself, what does the wine evoke to you? Does it remind you of Christmas? Perhaps a fruit cocktail you’ve recently enjoyed? The point of wine tasting is to determine what the wine reminds you of, and how successful the vintner was at creating a well-balanced beverage with all these nuances.
Step 4: The Sip
You’ve now arrived at the main event. Take a small sip of the wine, and let it coat your mouth. Don’t bother trying to pick out flavours on different parts of your tongue, that’s probably all hogwash anyways. Instead, feel the weight of the wine, test its viscosity, and start forming first impressions.
Begin with the basics. Is it sweet, sour, a bit of both? Check the acidity — is it bright and refreshing or biting and unpleasant? Just let the music wash over you for a minute before you start picking out individual instruments.
Once you’ve got the gist, now you can start trying to establish a profile. If it tastes generally fruity, what fruit does it remind you of? If it’s smokey, is it more like tobacco smoke or campfire? If there’s floral notes, does it smell like a flower you might recall? It’s all about drilling it down into specifics. Finding tastes you like in a wine will help you appreciate wines that evoke similar flavours in the future.
Step 5: Savour
Your last step is to consider the finish. How long does the wine stick around on your tongue? As the top notes fade, what base flavours remain, and how enjoyable are they? The finish is really what separates good wine from great wine. If it still tastes great when the main show is over, it’s probably an exceptional wine.
If you just want to get your wine-drunk on, then wine tasting might not be for you. But if you want to try and garner a deeper appreciation for this fine fermented fluid, giving it a proper tasting will help increase your enjoyment as you sip it slow in the future.