Tips For Tasting Wine
Everything you need to know about the wine tasting process at the winery tasting room
If you're new to wine tasting, these tips will help you feel comfortable when you belly up to the bar. There are also helpful etiquette tips on our TASTING ROOM ETIQUETTE page.
-- 1. LOOK. When your host pours a taste into your glass, the first thing you should do it take a look at the color. If it's a white wine, for example, is it golden? or more pale? If it's a red, is it deep and dark? Is it light, like the color of a ruby? You might want to take notes (at least mental notes) so that you can compare the other wines you taste.
--2. SMELL. Give the wine a gentle swirl to wake up the aromas before giving the wine a good sniff. Place your nose just over the glass and give one good sniff and think about what the smell reminds you of. Smell can trigger memories stronger than any other sense. I'll smell dried leaves in a wine and instantly return to a childhood memory of trick-or-treating on a beautiful October day in upstate New York, with the bright orange and red leaves falling all around like a Technicolor snowfall. But it just might remind you of dirt.
-- 3. LISTEN. A good host will usually tell you a bit about the wine, and what to look for when you sniff and taste. If they say something you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
--4. COMPARE. Use your observations to compare the wines. Did one white wine have a golden color, while the next was almost clear? Talk to your host. Point out these observations and they may be able to explain to you what causes these differences in color, taste, and aroma. This is how you learn to train your palette.
--5. TASTE. sip the wine. What is your initial reaction? Take another sip, but this time let it sit in your mouth a bit longer. Maybe suck a bit of air through your lips and swish the wine around so it hits every part of your tongue. If you know a bit about taste buds you know that you taste different things on different parts of your tongue.
--6. DESCRIBE. There are standard words used to talk about wine, like berries and fruit, dry or sweet, tannic or smooth. Use the tasting notes provided to help you zero in on flavors, however don't be afraid to say exactly what comes to mind. A red wine might remind you of a smoky cave. A white might taste like you just popped a sour apple Jolly Rancher candy in your mouth. Does it taste exactly like putting a handful of fresh cut green grass in your mouth? Then say so. That is the fun of tasting wine, it's all very personal. Always remember that you can't be "wrong" when describing what you taste. So have fun and let the adjectives fly!
--7. DRINK OR DUMP? If you just don't like the wine, simply dump it in the bucket provided for that purpose. You may want to give it another sip, or another whiff, but don't make a big deal out of it. Most people don't like EVERY wine they taste. But it's a good idea to try to figure out what it is about the wine you don't like. For example, was it the way it dried out your mouth? That is usually caused by the tannins in a red wine. Once you know that, in the future you can steer your host to more wines you'll like by saying you tend not to like extremely tannic wines.
--8.TAKE NOTES. It's fun to have a notepad to write your descriptions down as you go. This way you'll have a way to compare the wines you taste, and a way to remember which wines you liked. Believe me, after a long day of tasting wines at several wineries, you'll be hard pressed to remember specific wines you enjoyed (if you remember anything after the first winery!). Often, the host will allow you to write on and keep the tasting notes provided. You don't always have to write flowery notes, either. Sometimes simply a quick rating system, one to five, for example, can help you remember the gems.
--9. TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY? Ask where to purchase the wines outside the winery. This is important, especially if you enjoyed the wines, because sometimes the wines are only available at the winery. Other times the wines are available almost anywhere, at any store, and for probably a bit cheaper.
For more: TASTING ROOM ETIQUETTE.