How To Taste Wine Like a Pro
Updated: Feb 19, 2019
We all love wine. And we all LOVE drinking wine. My idea of a fantastic weekend is spent in the Texas Hill Country tasting wine, eating delicious food, and, of course, taking in the incredible views.
However, while most of us enjoy wine tasting, many of us don’t know what we’re doing. Yes, we taste it, but we aren’t sure what we are looking for in the wine.
If you fall into this category, don’t worry! You are not alone. If you want to know how to taste wine, you have come to the right place. We want to help make your next wine tasting more fruitful, even fruit forward. Ha!
The first thing you should pay attention to, according to Wine Magazine, is what is going on around you that may affect how you enjoy and think about the wine. For example, a crowded and noisy room will make it difficult to concentrate on the wine.
However, this is often impossible to avoid if you are a casual wine taster on the weekends. Most people enjoy an afternoon of wine tasting with friends and don’t schedule private tastings. Just be aware of the atmosphere around you and how it might affect your impression of the wine.
The odors in the room can also affect the taste. Is there food near you? Does anyone have a pet with them? Any smells around you can drastically change your ability to decipher the wine’s aromas. Walk away from these aromas, if possible.
Other factors will affect the taste of the wine, as well. Is the glass too small or the wrong shape? Was the glass washed well, or smell of detergent? All of these are things that will affect the taste of the wine, as well. Ask for a clean glass if needed.
Perhaps the most important factor affecting how the wine tastes to you is the temperature it is served at. If a wine is too cold when it is served to you, warm it slightly by holding the glass in both of your hands.
Finally, avoid eating or drinking anything before tasting your wine. Any other flavors in your mouth will affect how the wine tastes to you.
Tasting the Wine
When it comes to tasting the wine, there is an established method that, if followed, will help you get the most accurate representation of the wine possible. First, look at the wine under neutral lighting. Next, smell the wine to identify aromas. Third, taste the wine for structure and flavor. Finally, think about the wine to conclude your profile of that particular wine.
To get the best look at the wine, ensure the glass is about one-third full. You will also want to look at the wine from different angles.
Look straight down at your wine in the glass, hold the glass up to a light source, then tilt the glass so the wine pours toward the edge of the glass. You are looking for the entire color range, not just the darkness when it is sitting in the middle of the glass.
As you spend more time tasting wines, you will begin to recognize types of wine by the color and the smell. Looking down into a glass and seeing a dark-colored wine that is purple-black might tell you it is a Syrah or a Zinfandel. A lighter colored wine could potentially be a Pinot Noir or a Sangiovese.
Looking at the wine from the side of the glass while holding it up to the light will show you how clear the wine is. If you notice a murky wine, that tells you there might have been a problem with fermentation, or that it is unfiltered. You want to see a clear and almost sparkly wine from this angle.
Tilting the glass to spread the wine out can tell you about the wine’s age and weight. You do not want to see watery wine at the edges. If a white wine is tawny or brown or if a red wine is orange or almost rust-colored, the wine could be old or oxidized.
Swirling the wine can show you how “big” the wine is, or how much alcohol is in it. Hold the glass firmly on the counter and give it a good swirl. Look for “legs” on the sides of the glass. The better the legs, the more alcohol there is in the wine. These wines are bigger and denser than wines with less or no legs.
Now you need to smell the wine. After swirling the wine, hold the glass under your nose, do not put your nose in the glass. Take a few short sniffs then set the glass down.
You will never identify all of the aromas, so don’t stress too much. Look for specific categories of aromas. First, look for wine flaws that might show the wine is spoiled. If it smells like your attic or a wet newspaper, it is skunked. Smelling vinegar, burnt matches, or leather might indicate too much of a chemical component.
Fruit aromas are another category to smell for in a wine. Wine should smell like fruit. Being able to identify specific fruits can tell you about the growing conditions in the vineyard.
Flowers, plants, or herbs and spices are other things to smell for. Rieslings and Gewürztraminers often are floral. Sauvignon Blanc can be grassy, while Cabernet Sauvignon smells more strongly of herbs and plants. You might also notice scents of mushrooms, leather, earth or minerals in the wine. These will also tell you the conditions of the vineyard where the grapes are from
You should also look for aromas from the barrel. Aging wine in newer oak barrels leads to notes of toast, smoke, vanilla, chocolate, espresso, nuts, or caramel scents. Barrels can add very distinct flavors to the wine depending on what they are made of, how many times they have been used, and how they were prepared.
You might also pick up on secondary aromas. Young white wines will have yeast smells similar to beer. Dessert wines might smell like honey. Chardonnays often smell like caramel or popcorn. You will notice less fruit on older wines.
Being able to name the aromas will help you understand and remember the wine you are tasting.
Now is the best part, the taste! Take a sip, not gulp, of the wine. Act like you are trying to drink it with a straw, as this will aerate the wine as you drink. You will hopefully get many of the flavors from the smell part of the tasting. In particular, you are tasting to see if the wine is balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved, and complete.
A balanced wine is a well-proportioned wine. Sweet and sour are the most prominent profiles in wine. You don’t usually taste salty or bitter notes in the wine. The bitter taste should come from the feeling from tannins, not from the flavor. You want to taste a balanced wine, not too sour, sugary, hot, bitter, or flabby.
If the wine is harmonious, all of the flavors work together. Often in younger wines, the flavors have not blended, and you immediately notice a particular component.
The first flavors you will recognize are probably ripe, almost jammy fruit and vanilla flavors. A complex wine will seemingly change while you taste it. Pay attention to how long the flavors last as you are tasting.
Finally, a complete wine has all of the above elements and is satisfying to drink. These are the wines you are looking for, one that is balanced, harmonious, complex, and evolved.
Ok, after all of this, you can finally form your impression of the wine. Did you enjoy the flavors? How would you describe it? Would you drink it again, or recommend it? Make some mental notes.
Then, start again! Maybe the next glass is even better!
Now that you know how to taste wine, stop into Sweetbriar Rose Thursday through Sunday. We have an incredibly friendly staff who will pour some beautiful glasses of wine for you to taste. We hope to see you soon.