The Basics of Tasting Wine

tasting wineTasting wine doesn't have to be an intimidating event for the beginner! Come on, its drinking wine, its supposed to be fun. So, first and foremost, don't get stressed about going to your first wine tastings or hosting a wine tasting. However, there are some basics about how to taste wine that can help you get started. Once you know the basic process and what you are looking for in general, you are ready to start exploring and getting more specific about wines. Here are the basic steps in tasting wine. After you are done here, go on to learn more about the specific components of tasting wine.

The Steps of Tasting Wine

  • Opening and Pouring Wine - Obviously, this is the first step. We will cover how to open and pour wine elsewhere but this should be pretty obvious. Whether using a waiter's corkscrew, screwpull or other fancy cork puller, opening the bottle should be pretty basic. However, one mistake beginners make in pouring wine is pouring too much! Be sure to only pour about 1/4th of a glassful. You will need room to swirl and sniff the wine. If it is filled up to the top you won't have room for either of these!
  • Wine Color and Appearance - The next step in assessing a wine is simply looking at the wine. While many people gloss over this step pretty quickly, it can be useful. Note the overall color, the depth or opacity of color, the clarity, and viscosity. Read more about this on the Wine Color and Appearance page.
  • Wine Aroma or "the Nose" - After your initial impressions of the wine's appearance, turn your attention to the aroma of the wine, what wine geeks call the wine's "nose". Swirling the wine will help to volatilize the wine so you can smell it better. Don't be afraid to get your nose right in there. Take your time and try to come up with descriptors, ways of describing what you are smelling. Start by naming the fruit aromas you smell and move on to other aromas, earth, wood, smoke, etc. There are no right and wrong answers so take a shot at it. This is a subjective thing. Overall, do you like the aroma? Is it complex, meaning it has many nuances of, or is it simple, with only one primary aroma. Does it entice you to take a sip or does it turn you off? Are there strange "off" aromas like melted rubber, mold, wet dog or others? Learn more about the specifics of assessing the nose of a wine on the Wine Aroma page.
  • Wine Flavor or "the Mouth" - Finally, after studying the appearance and nose, move on to take a small sip. Swirl the wine around in your mouth and suck in some air to volatilize the wine and get more out of it. Pay attention to whether the wine has any sweetness or is it dry? Is it light bodied or a big, full bodied wine? Is it flat feeling or lively, tart or bitter? Are there noticeable tannins (the drying, astringent feeling you get in your mouth with bigger red wines or chewing on the skin of a grape or apple)? Is it bland or does it have intensity to the flavors? Is it simple or complex with layers of flavors? What is the feel of the wine in your mouth, clumsy and chunky or is it velvety and silky? Pay attention to the finish after you swallow or spit the wine, does it linger attractively on your palate or does the flavor die away quickly? Does it entice you to take another sip or does it leave a bad taste in your mouth? Finally, do you like it? Is the overall impression positive or negative? Learn more about assessing the mouth on the Wine Flavor page.

Other Tips on Tasting Wine

  • Take Notes! - Taking notes and discussing your wine are important steps in tasting wine. The simple act of putting your impressions into words helps you to focus on the wine and be critical of its individual components. It helps you to focus on the nuances of the wine, not just the overall impression.
  • Start a Wine Tasting Journal - A great way to take notes and keep them organized so that you can refer back to them is to start a wine tasting journal. There are wine tasting journals produced specifically for that purpose with a template pre-printed on each page. Alternatively, you can use any journal or diary type book to keep your notes. Simply write the date, the name and vintage of the wine, followed by your notes about the wine's color, aroma and flavors. You can even give scores to each wine you taste!
  • Use a Wine Tasting Flavor Wheel - For the beginner who is not used to pulling specific descriptors (like "It smells like orange blossoms next to a field of wild raspberries!") out of thin air to describe a wine, a wine tasting flavor wheel helps you to focus your attention. It lists the different categories of aromas and flavors and gives examples for you to think about to see which fit the wine you are tasting. Once you get a little experience you won't need this anymore, but it really helps in the beginning!
  • That's it! I hope this helps you get started tasting wine. Be sure to go back to learn more about the specific components of How to Taste Wine.

    Done with the Basics of Tasting Wine?
    Return to the How to Taste Wine page.

    Return to the Wine Tastings Guide home page.

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