You’ve probably heard from both friends and experts that any wine you like is good wine, and this is true if simply enjoying wine is your goal. It is also true that figuring out what you like is a very important part of wine tasting, but it is not the only part. Learning how to taste wine is your first challenge. The more you fine-tune your sensory abilities, the better you are able to understand and enjoy the nuances and details that great wines express. Passing judgment quickly about a wine is not the same as understanding and evaluating it.
While there is no one right or wrong way to learn how to taste wine, some “rules” do apply. First and foremost, you need to be methodical and focused, find your approach and consistently follow it. Not every single glass or bottle must be analyzed in this way, of course, but if you really want to learn about wine, a certain amount of dedication is necessary. Take a minute to evaluate the surroundings of your wine tasting experience that may affect your impressions of the wine. For instance, a noisy or crowded room makes concentration difficult. Cooking smells, perfume and even pet odor can destroy your ability to get a clear sense of a wine’s aromas. A glass that is too small, the wrong shape, or smells of detergent or dust can also affect the wine’s flavor.
The temperature of the wine will also have an impact on your impressions, as will the age of the wine and any residual flavors from whatever else you’ve been eating or drinking. You want to neutralize the tasting conditions as much as possible, so the wine has a fair chance to stand on its own. If a wine is served too cold, warm it with your hands by cupping the bowl. If a glass seems musty, give it a quick rinse with wine, not water, swirling it around to cover all the sides of the bowl. This is called conditioning the glass. Finally, if there are strong aromas nearby—especially perfume—walk as far away from them as you can and try to find some neutral air.
Let’s get started:
Try and pick out at least two flavors and take your time identifying them. There are three types of wine aromas:
- Primary Aromas: come from grapes and include fruit, herb and flower notes
- Secondary Aromas: come from fermentation and yeast aromas
- Tertiary Bouquets: come from aging, oxidation and oak such as baking spices, nutty aromas and vanilla
Two elements make up taste: flavor and structure.
- Flavors: such as lemon, raspberry or coconut
- Structure: such as the level of sweetness, body, alcohol, acidity and tannin
Profile: The taste of wine is also time-based; there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish)
Take a sip, not a large swallow, of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if pulling it through a straw. Ignore the stares of those around you; this simply aerates the wine and circulates it throughout your mouth. Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you? Surely, you’ll encounter a wide range of fruit, flower, herb, mineral, barrel and other flavors, and if you’ve done your sniffing homework, most will follow right along where the aromas left off. Aside from simply identifying flavors, you are also using your taste buds to determine if the wine is balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved and complete. Remember that practice makes perfect, and the time and effort invested in palate training is rewarding…and very, very fun. Happy sipping!
Heather Burton, wine and spirits supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineheatherb