To me, tasting is the heart of the wine universe. Everything else I know about wine either begins or is validated by a sip. And often when I’m full up on new wine information and don’t know how I’ll ever remember it, I turn to the glass.
So how do you taste, anyway?
There are lots of opinions out there on how to taste wine. My own approach skews more toward the casual, which I fully admit might rankle some of the more traditional wine buffs out there. If you’re looking for how to be able to guess the wine from tasting it, I wholeheartedly suggest looking into the more serious methods. For me, tasting is about building my personal knowledge and preferences and about learning the characteristics of different wines so I can make better guesses about which wines I might like.
Here are the steps I take when tasting any wine, whether it’s on a casual Tuesday night or a fancy dinner party.
Choose Your Wine(s)
If I’ve been eager to try a certain varietal/region/style, I usually go for that. I tend to get into phases where I keep returning to a varietal or region repeatedly to try and reinforce my knowledge of its general traits. For me, repetition is key to learning. Delicious, delicious repetition.
The circumstances I’ll be drinking the wine under come into play too. If it’s just me I will often take a chance on something new and unfamiliar, since I only have myself to impress or disappoint. If I’m going to a dinner party I will usually choose a favourite since I like to share my finds with other wine lovers. If I’m celebrating something, I’ll pick up a bottle of bubbly. With so much wine out there it can help to let your circumstances guide the tasting.
Choose Your Glassware
Which glass to use when is another thing many people feel strongly about. I don’t tend to follow the rules very closely, and I don’t think the casual drinker needs to be concerned about them either. There are some instances where a specific glass might enhance your tasting experience but ultimately any glass will do when you’re thirsty for some vino!
I tend to use stemless glasses for both reds and whites in a casual setting. They’re easy to use (and clean!) and stand a smaller chance of breaking, but keep in mind that if you’re drinking a chilled wine your hand on the glass will heat up the wine over time.
When it comes to sparkling I admit I’m a little torn. Lately I have been using stemless flutes, and generally go with the flute style because the smaller surface area slows down the escape of C02, meaning the bubbly stays bubblier for longer. However, I do admit to being a fan of Marie Antoinette style glasses, and use them on occasion. Something about them just makes me feel like I’m a flapper in the 1920’s – so glamorous!
Sniff, Swirl, Sip
Finally, the good part! Tasting is pretty simple – the main thing to remember is to take your time and enjoy each sip.
- Look at the wine. What is the colour, exactly? Is it clear? Opaque? Does it have legs – those spindly little lines left behind on the side of a glass after you take a sip?
- Smell the wine. What kinds of things do you smell? Flowers? Citrus fruits? Leather? Smoke? A lot of the flavour will come from the bouquet, linger a little on this step to truly get to know the wine.
- Swirl the wine, and then smell again. Do you smell different things after the wine has been agitated a little? Often a wine will offer different things if it’s been swirled or left in the glass for a little while. This is what people talk about when they say a wine has ‘opened up’.
- Now – TASTE! Does it taste the same way it smells, or do you get a different flavour? How does what you smelled interact with what you’re tasting? Where does the wine linger on your tongue, or does it even linger at all? What sort of quick aftertaste, or finish, does it leave? How does the flavour change the longer the wine sits?
Dos and Don’ts of Tasting Wine (Ok, it’s mostly Dos)
- DO choose the wine and glassware that feels right to you.
- DO change it up if you want to. Different wine or glassware for different occasions – or different moods!
- DON’T do what I do and hoard your favourite wine items for a future tasting – there’s no time like the present to use those glasses!
- DO write down your observations, it can help you remember them for next time.
- DO take your time – sniff, swirl, and enjoy every sip! (And if you don’t enjoy the sip, why are you drinking that wine??)
Tasting is a simple way to get to know any wine and have delicious fun building knowledge in the process. Now go forth, my friend, and taste!