Knowing how to taste wine is a skill that can help you in many social situations. Wine tasting is something that allows you to look like an expert in a topic that many people revere, as well as allowing you to be more discerning in your choice of beverage. If you are hosting a dinner party, then choosing the right wine is a great way to impress guests, while choosing your wine carefully and knowing how to taste it is also a surefire way to impress a date.
You’re not going to learn everything about wine tasting from a single article of course, but here we will look at some of the very most basic elements of wine tasting so that you might better be able to at least appear knowledgeable on the subject and not make any faux pas.
The most basic thing you need to be able to do is hold the wine glass, and otherwise you will quickly reveal yourself as an amateur. To do this correctly you should hold the glass only by its stem – never by the bowl part. The simple reason for this is that if you hold it around the bowl you will risk warming the glass and the wine and thereby negatively altering the taste. A good wine glass has the rim funneling slightly inward so that the fumes are directed toward the nose, and so that you can swirl the wine without spilling any.
When you are tasting wines you should pour just an inch or less into the glass. You should also be sure to start with the lightest wine first if you are trying several. This helps to keep your taste buds intact to keep you more able to appreciate each wine. You can also take a sip of water between different wines in order to ‘clear’ the palette.
Now when you have the glass the first thing you will do is to look at the wine. This is best in daylight and you might want to hold it in front of a white or pale surface. If you tip the wine slightly this will help to spread it out more so you can better assess it. Tip the glass around 45 degrees and make a note of what you see – is it clear or cloudy? How colorful is it?
The color can right away tell you a little. For instance a red wine will normally be bright raspberry color, but in the case of older wines this will be more like a ‘brick’ type burgundy. Desert wines and those kept in oak barrels are likely to have a slightly golden hue. White wines, despite their name, range from pale green to yellow to a golden brownish color. The older they are, the more brown they will appear. At the same time you will note a watery rim around the edge where the wine appears more like water. This denotes youth as well – the more watery the wine’s appearance the younger it is.
Next you are going to swirl the wine in the glass. You can do this just by rotating it slightly in your hand with your wrist kept limp, or you can place it on the table between your fingers and swirl it round this way. As you do this you are releasing vapors ready to smell, but you are also coating the edges of the glass with wine. This then allows it to drip down the inside edge of the glass where it sticks – these are called ‘legs’. This tells you the body of the wine, as well as the strength. More legs = more body and more alcohol.
Now tip the glass to your nose and inhale, stay a couple of inches from the glass rather than putting your nose all the way in and you will catch a greater proportion of the smells. That said though you will notice that the smells deeper into the glass are more floral and fruity, whereas further out they are richer. Try moving around and detect what you can in the smell – spicy scents, fruity scents, woody scents etc.
Next to taste the wine you should sip just a small amount. This is the last stage of the wine tasting. As you sip let the wine spread across your tongue and then breath in slightly through the mouth to bring in more of the flavors and tastes. Remember – 75% of taste is smell. Now either swallow the wine, or if you are staying sober try spitting it into a bottle elsewhere.
Interestingly different parts of the mouth will detect different features of the wine. The tip of the tongue for instance will detect the sweetness, while the inner edges will detects sourness and acidity. The outer sides of the tongue meanwhile detect salt, and the back of the tongue detects bitterness and alcohol. Practice holding the wine in your mouth for a moment and see if you can pick out those different elements of the taste.