Wine Tasting Tips
Look. Smell. Taste.
Begin by holding up a glass of wine to a white background in a well-lit room. Observe the clarity and depth of color. Wines should be clear rather than hazy, and should exhibit intense color. Color, resulting from the contact of juice with the grape skins during winemaking, indicates grape varietals and winemaking methods. White wines, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc (often called Fumé Blanc) or Pinot Grigio, may appear light green, clear, straw yellow or gold, or even brown. Sweeter white wines, such as Muscat, generally start off with a deeper shade of yellow. Red wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Pinot Noir, may be purple, ruby, brick red or brownish red. As red wine ages, it will lose color and take on a brick-brown hue. Blush wines, like dry Rosés or White Zinfandel are pink.
Much of our sense of taste lies in our ability to smell. To release the bouquet and aromas of the wine, swirl the glass. Bouquet refers to odors that result from winemaking decisions, while aroma refers to odors associated with the grape varietal. As wine clings to the inside of the glass, more odors are released. Now smell the wine and try to identify the very first thing you think of. Pumpkin pie? Freshly mowed grass? A cigar box? Leather? Strawberries? These associations make wine tasting fun, and can be a very valuable tool in remembering wines and communicating about them. Because we all bring different associations to what we smell, the Wine Aroma Wheel is a chart that provides a common vocabulary for identification.
To taste wine, sip and hold it in your mouth. Different parts of the tongue register different tastes. Allow the wine to roll all over your tongue, and notice the texture, or mouth-feel, of the wine. Balanced wines represent the harmony among several components: aroma, acid, tannin, fruit and sweetness. Acidity should provide a pleasant, but not overwhelming tartness. Balanced tannins contribute an agreeable astringency (that slight “pucker” feeling); this is one reason many red wines pair well with fat-rich foods — tannins in red wines cut through the fatty mouth-coating after each bite and prepare your taste buds to enjoy the next bite anew.
Finally, what kind of taste does the wine leave in your mouth after you have swallowed, and how long does the taste last? This is the wine’s finish. A clean, crisp yet lingering balanced finish is the mark of a good quality wine.