Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wine
So you’ve been drinking wine for a little while now, and you’re starting to get curious about it more and more. How do you taste wine as you hear people talk about? Maybe you’re starting to notice a difference in the wines you’re drinking but have no idea what people are talking about when they start mentioning the acidity or tannins. And where the hell are they getting flavors of earth or aroma or tennis balls?!
Take a breath and have a sip, babe. I’m here to help. Wine tasting is actually pretty straightforward, and I’ve got 4 simple steps to get you started. The main key to it is slowing down and really savoring and thinking about the first few sips. And yes, I said sips.
Besides that, it comes down to practice. I promise as you drink wine thoughtfully more often, you’ll start to notice aromas and flavors that Today You would be v impressed by. I recommend actually writing out notes on the wines you try, what you noticed, and if you liked them. Not only will you have a record of that wine you tried that one time that you liked (been there), but you’ll also be able to look back at your progress!
Okay, let’s get to the steps. You got this. Pour yourself a small glass—I’m talking 3 sips or about 1-2 ounces—and let’s begin!
1. Look – Hold the wine glass up to a white background and look at the wine. Tilt your glass so the wine goes up the side as you observe the wine. You’re looking at the color of the wine and its transparency. Generally the darker the wine is, the heavier-bodied it is. If you already know if you prefer light- or heavy-bodied wine – great! If not, start noticing if you tend to prefer one over the other. PS. This is why tasting mats are often on white paper.
As you set your glass down and level it out, notice if the wine leaves streaks down the glass and how thick they are. These are called legs or tears. They really only indicate how alcoholic the wine is, which you can taste or read on the label, but some people really love to talk about the legs of a wine. The more legs there are, the higher the alcoholic content. Now you know.
2. Smell – This is important as a lot of your taste starts with your smell, so don’t skip this step! I promise you’re missing out if you don’t. I like to start by first getting a smell before swirling it…and I mean really getting your nose into the glass. Then swirl the wine a few times before smelling again. You’ll notice the aroma, or nose as it’s often called, is a lot stronger now. It may feel silly or pretentious to swirl your wine at first, but it makes a difference!
Once you’ve swirled, note what you smell. This may be hard at first, but following the tasting notes or asking the staff what they smell is a great place to start identifying these aromas.
3. Taste – Here’s the part I know you’ve been waiting for: TASTING the wine. We’re going to do this is 3 steps. First take a small sip and drink it slowly, giving it time to sit in your mouth for a second or 2 and noticing the taste and feel.
Now take a second sip and swirl the wine around in your mouth. You’ll want to really get it all around your mouth to taste all the flavors. It’s often suggested to act as though you’re chewing it. Again, this may feel funny at first, but it does make a difference in what you’ll notice about the wine!
Now the third sip is really where things can get weird if you’re not around other wine people, but you can do it subtly. As you probably know, smell is actually a major player in what we taste. To maximize this effect and help you really taste everything in a wine, you’ll want to suck in a little air while you swish the wine around in your mouth on this sip. It’s called trilling, and it’s amazing how this affects what you taste!
So what are you actually supposed to taste beside “red or white”? There are 5 categories you’ll want to take note of: sweetness, acidity, tannins, alcohol, and body. We’ll dive into these categories even more in an upcoming post, but start with this overview.
Sweetness is relatively straightforward and will be one of the first sensations you notice. Does it taste sweet or not? This is usually described on a scale from sweet to off-dry to dry.
Acidity is next up. A wine is high in acidity if it’s tart or sour and makes your mouth water. Low-acidity wine can taste creamy. If that doesn’t make sense now, just note if you would describe the wine as either as you keep tasting.
Then we have tannins. You’ve probably heard about tannins, but may not really know what on earth they are. They can come from the grapes themselves or even the barrels the wine was aged in, but mainly they give wine some texture. They can also add bitterness when there are a lot in a wine. Your mouth drying out is a hallmark sign of a high-tannin wine.
People tend to blame tannins for their wine headaches, which can happen if you drink too much of any alcohol, tannins or not. I’ll leave it at that for now. Stay tuned for a longer opinion.
Alcohol is literally how alcoholic the wine is. A wine high in alcohol will warm the back of your throat. As mentioned above it’s also indicated by the legs and most notably, the label, so don’t worry about nailing this one unless your goal is the blind tasting level.
Body is a good one to practice savoring with, as this one is really about mindful tasting. This is how light or heavy the wine feels in your mouth. That may seem like an odd concept at first, but as you taste more wine you’ll understand the difference. Cabernet sauvignon is a classic example of a heavy wine while pinot noir is light-bodied. Sangiovese is in the middle and is medium-bodied. Pretty easy. If you’re tasting multiple wines in a flight or proper tasting, you’ll almost always drink the wines from lightest to heaviest.
As far as flavors, this part will come with time and practice. Be patient with yourself! It may seem hard when you first start, but this is why I suggest comparing what you taste to the tasting notes or the back of the bottle.
To guide you, I also recommend the Vivino app and the book Wine Folly. Vivino lets you keep track of your own tastings while also seeing what others thought about and tasted in the wines. Wine Folly breaks down many types of wine, or varietals, with the expected breakdown of the 5 categories mentioned above, as well as common flavors and aromas of each and more. Both are excellent resources to help you understand what to look for as you learn to identify flavors on your own.
4. Decide – Okay, you made it through the hardest part! To wrap up the tasting, you’ll want to note two overall qualities of the wine. The first is if the wine is balanced. For example some unbalanced wines are overly sweet, and that one note overpowers the other aspects of the wine. Again, maybe that’s what you’re into, but most wines that are considered high quality will also be well-balanced.
The final thing to note is the complexity of the wine. Do you notice many aromas and flavors? Does it linger on your palate? Maybe it even has an initial impression and then develops more fully as you taste it. Those are signs of complexity, which is also considered an indicator of a high quality wine.
Last but not least, what did you think about the wine? Most importantly, did you like it? There are plenty of great wines that may not be for you, and you may find a gem in a cheap or unpopular wine that you love. First and foremost, wine is meant to be enjoyed!
You did it! You’ve tasted a wine. Pour yourself a full glass of wine to congratulate yourself. The first few times you taste wine this way might take a while, but soon you’ll run through these steps like a pro. Now go enjoy your wine and appreciate what you just accomplished!