Wine Tasting

Wine tasting may be nothing more than simply trying a new wine at home, in a bar, or restaurant or could be more formal such as at a wine event, winery, or tasting room.  Although there is really no right or wrong way to taste wine, this page provides some information and tips that can help make the experience more enjoyable for you as well as those around you.

Starters & Etiquette

Avoid wearing heavy perfumes or lotions. Much of the wine experience involves the aroma of the wine and this can be greatly impaired if everyone is surrounded by other scents.

Eat first and stay hydrated.  Even if you do not plan to “drink” much wine it is easy to slip away from that plan. Small sips add up and before long you’ve had a bit more than expected. Plan ahead and have plenty to eat first, and be sure to stay hydrated.

Swallow, spit, or dump? Of course you can swallow during a wine tasting, but if you are planning many stops show moderation. It is perfectly acceptable to spit or dump your samples in the receptacle provided. After all, the last thing tasting rooms and other patrons want are drunk tasters.

Drink outside the box.  Constantly try new wines. Don’t be shackled to just your favorite varieties and types, but be open to trying something new. You never know, you could find a new favorite.

Retry, but buy. If you wish to retry a wine that you have already tasted, only ask if you are contemplating a purchase. Also, if you try something you like, hang out and buy a glass (if available) or take a bottle home. After all, that is the goal of your host.

Don’t be a snob. Regardless of your experience with wine, nobody likes a know-it-all or snob. Keep the experience enjoyable for everyone, especially your server; just have fun.

Evaluation Methods

Sight. The color and clarity can tell a great deal about the wine.

  • Color – Look down into the glass from above, then up to the light, and then at an angle (preferably to a white background) so the wine rolls to the edge of the glass. The color can provide hints to the grape variety, age, or quality of the wine.
    • Reds vary in color from deep-dark to pale; purple, maroon, burgundy, ruby, red, brick, and brownish tints. Older red wines will tend to have an orange or reddish-brown color especially along the edge of the glass when tilted.
    • Whites can be fairly clear, straw-like, golden, amber, and deep yellow.  Although the color varies greatly between varieties, older wines are typically darker when comparing them to younger wines of the same variety.
  • Clarity – View the wine through the side of the glass to see how clear it is. A cloudy wine could have a chemical or fermentation problem, or it might just have sediments because it is an unfiltered wine.
  • Swirl – With the glass on a flat surface, swirl the wine around to allow the wine to move up the sides of the glass.  With practice this can be done in the air.  You will be able to then see if the wine forms “legs” or “tears” as it runs down the side of the glass. Wines with good legs will have more alcohol and glycerin content. These are typically the bolder, riper, and denser wines.

Smell. Swirl the wine around the glass for several seconds. This helps disperse some of the wine’s alcohol and release other aromas. Now take several small sniffs above the glass to get a hint of the aromas. Some persons then will stick their nose down into the glass and take a deep sniff.  There are so many aromas and they come through differently for everyone. The aromas can give you a hint to the variety, whether it was aged in oak, growing conditions for the vineyard, and if there is a flaw in the wine.

Taste.  Sip the wine and allow it to spread throughout your mouth. Then try drawing some air through your lips to aerate the wine as this further releases the aromas inside your mouth and nasal passages.  The flavors you encounter (fruits, minerals, foods, oak barrel, herbs) will probably match the aromas you detected. A “balanced” wine should have an equal proportion of sweetness, acidity (tartness), tannins (sometimes bitterness), and alcohol. The “finish” of the wine is the lingering aftertaste.  Sometimes this may release additional flavors.  If the finish is long and the flavors are balanced it is a sign of good quality.