As a wine consultant, I get asked weekly “How do you know so much about wine?” I explain that while I have taken some intensive Sommelier classes, the best education a person can get is to simply taste a variety of wines. Step outside the box, don’t limit yourself on varietal, taste whites, reds, rosés, sparkling, sweet and dry! So this post is a very “simplified” crash course in wine tasting.
Wine tasting can be broken down into three things; appearance, smell and taste. Pour a glass of wine, filling it only about a third of the way. Look at its color. White wines range from colorless, lemon, green, gold, amber and brown. Reds range from purple, ruby, garnet, tawny and brown. Rosés range from pink, salmon to orange. The color helps to determine everything from age, quality, varietal, oak, alcohol, etc…but we are not going there today. Just simply observe and take note that different varietals have different shades of color. Maybe also note the age on the bottle and the coordinating color. Obviously, I would be wary of a brown Chardonnay or a brown Cab! They are probably old and way past their prime.
Next, swirl the wine around in the glass a few times and stick your nose in there, way in there, taking a solid whiff.You almost want to inhale it. The very basic things to take note of here are fruit, floral, spice or vegetal.Sweetness levels and oak aging can also be determined from aroma. Wines have a huge variety of possible smells, too many to discuss here, but the basics are as follows. Whites tend to have aromas like green apple, grass, lemon, grapefruit, and various flowers. Reds can smell like red or black fruits, spices, vegetables, earth, and vanilla just to name a few. Rosés can smell like lighter red fruits, strawberry, watermelon, and flowers. But all that really matters – “what do you smell?”
Lastly, is taste. Take a sip. Swirl the wine around in your mouth for a few seconds and swallow. Yes, swallow! This is an informal at home tasting, NO WASTING here! Again, there are many things to look for ranging from acidity, sugar, tannins, alcohol, etc…but let’s just focus on the basic flavor characteristics of fruits, floral, spice, vegetal and oak. Ask yourself what do you taste? Maybe it’s something not typical, like starfruit or asparagus.
So the next time you pop open a bottle of wine, take a few moments to look at its appearance, then smell it, then taste it. Jot down a few notes maybe. Soon, you will begin to notice the vast differences between a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a California Chardonnay. Or the differences between a CA Cab and a CA Zin. Trust me, these simple steps are the basics of learning about wine, but most of all just taste and ENJOY!
Bill Knowles, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits wine consultant
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineBillK