We see a lot of first-timers at our wine tastings who unsure of what exactly they should be doing when the glass is in their hands, while others are happy to swallow and smile! For those who are looking to get a little more out of the experience we’ve got a few simple steps to start you on your wine tasting journey.
The first thing to do is a have a look at what’s in the glass. The main thing you are noticing here is the colour because this will give you a clue about its age. The colour of white wines will tend to enrich with age, while the colour in a red will thin out as it gets older.
You may notice a more experienced wine taster will also swirl the wine in the glass. This does a couple of things – it breaks down the tannins in red wine by introducing more oxygen which is sometimes known as ‘awakening the wine’. Tannins aren’t a taste but how a wine feels on your palate (harsh, soft) and breaking them down can make that first sip easier, particularly if you’re drinking a higher-tannin wine. The other thing the swirl does is allow you look at a wine’s viscosity, or its ‘legs’, which are the small droplets that run down the inside of the glass after you swirl. If those droplets are dense it means the wine has ‘big legs’ and a higher alcohol content, and if the droplets run slowly the wine has more sugar.
Now it’s time to get a whiff! Smelling the aromas of wine are important because it gives you an idea about what you are about to taste. Many things can impact the smell and taste – the grape itself, how it has been stored, its age – to name a few.
For the untrained nose discerning the aromas can be difficult, so start broad. Does it smell fruity? Give the wine another swirl and try and narrow that down a bit. Can you smell citrus, or maybe its more tropical? Now that you’ve got the general type of fruit, swirl again and have another go – maybe passionfruit? Or pineapple? You can apply this process in different ways. For example, if you smell savoury start thinking about flavours from the ageing process like vanilla or oak.
This is the part you’ve been waiting for, and there are a few different things you can look out for. The most obvious is its taste, so think back to the aromas you just identified and see if you can pick them out on your tongue. You will also find a sour element as all grapes have some acid. Wines with high acidity will taste more tart, while a low-acid wine will be much smoother.
Another thing you can notice as you sip is the wine’s texture. There can be a few components to a wine’s texture, but alcohol content is a major one with a higher alcohol wine increasing its presence on your tongue. If you’re tasting a red this is also where those tannins come back. Think about that feeling you sometimes get when tasting a red that is like your mouth drying out – that’s a high-tannin wine.