Tips to be a Better Wine Taster
The world of wine is often daunted by perceived pretension as self-proclaimed wine sobs dominate the conversation. It seems like everyone has an opinion about what wine you should drink and knows the best wine on the planet. Luckily, the world of wine does not have to be clouded by snobbery. Here are a few simple guidelines for a basic wine tasting guide.
1.) Evaluate wine by your senses
Look straight down into the glass, then hold it up to the light and tilt it so the wine rolls towards its edges. This will allow you to evaluate the wine by its complex color ranges rather than just its dark center. Looking down will let you see the depth of its color saturation. A deeply saturated purple or red could indicate a syrah or zinfandel. A paler red color would suggest a sangiovese or pinot noir. The side view shows you how opaque it is. It could also illustrate potential problems with the wine such as a murky white’s chemical or fermentation problems. This could also simply mean the wine is unfiltered. Tilting the glass provides clues for the wine’s age and weight. If the color is orange or rusty (for reds) or tawny and brown (for white), it is an older wine, and if it is watery or pale near the edges, it is a newer wine. After those three areas have been evaluated, give the glass a swirl and notice if the wine forms “tears” or “legs” that run down the side. The more prominent legs a wine has, the more alcohol and glycerin content it has, which usually indicates riper, bigger, denser grapes than those with less prominent legs.
Give the glass another swirl and take a good sniff. Your nose should hover over the top rather than be buried inside of the glass. Take a series of quick, short sniffs and begin to evaluate the fragrances. Wine is made from grapes, so naturally it will smell fruity unless it is extremely sweet, old, or cold. Floral aromas will be present in sweet whites like riesling or gewürztraminer; while some have a grassy scent like sauvignon blanc. Cabernet sauvignon is a full-bodied red that will smell somewhat spicy and peppery. Some fine wines will also smell earthy and indicate the conditions of the vineyard. If you smell vanilla, chocolate or oak notes, that could indicate the barrel the wine was aged in.
After you’ve looked at and smelled the wine, it is finally time to taste it. Take a sip and swish it around your mouth. This will aerate the wine so you can taste its full range of flavors. Like smell, you will be able to detect notes of fruits, herbs, flowers and barrels. Good wines will be balanced, and your taste buds should be able to detect sweet, sour, salty and bitter flavors. Bitterness should be more of a feeling of astringency than a bitter flavor itself. No element should overpower the other, and if the wine is young, it might not age well; if it is old, its complexity may be completely gone.
2.) Diversify your palate
Now that we’ve covered the basics in tasting wine, it’s important that we emphasize trying as many new wines as possible. It is easy to have one or two favorite kinds of wine, but branch out. Try different brands of your favorite type of wine. A Travelling Corkscrew blogger recounts her experience at a tasting party where three winemakers crafted a chardonnay from the same block of grapes. She was astounded by the variations in sight, smell and taste. Don’t be intimidated by wine festivals or tastings. Not only are these events cheap, but you can be educated on the tasting experience and learn about wines from around the world.
3.) Log your experiences
It may sound silly, but if you are serious about becoming a better wine taster, talk about, read about and WRITE ABOUT your tasting experiences to cultivate your own wine tasting guide. Use the sight, smell and taste guidelines to log each wine you taste and try to be as specific as possible. If a certain type or brand intrigues you, take it a step further and research it. Try to find local wineries that have that varietal or see what similar brands make the same varietal. Begin to research blends of your favorite reds or whites and see if you enjoy them or find them bland. Don’t be afraid of your opinions or think that they are right or wrong. Everyone’s palate and wine tasting experience is different, so drink up and enjoy!