You may have seen articles about ‘how to taste wine’ or ‘wine tasting tips’ before and thought, well, don’t you just…taste it? Yes and no.
To get the most out of your wine-drinking experience, follow these quick steps every time. By keeping a consistent tasting technique, you’ll be able to fairly and accurately evaluate every wine you drink. After the tasting guide, we’ll talk about how to start building the mental library of flavors and aromas.
We like to start with a small pour of a new wine, about two ounces. Stick your nose into the glass and try to pick out any aromas that come to you. These could be fruit notes, herbal or vegetal, oak, or earth.
Move the wine around in the glass to introduce oxygen, which helps open up more aromas and flavors. While oxygen is the enemy of wine long-term (that’s why a bottle of wine that was opened three days ago doesn’t taste as good as it did on the first day), it initially releases those aroma compounds.
Now that the wine has had an opportunity to open up, smell it again. You may be able to pick out additional notes that were masked in the first sniff.
Now for the fun part! Take a sip of the wine – not a gulp, but also not so little you can barely move the wine around in your mouth. Allow this sample to flow over your tongue and gums so you can start picking out flavors, body, structure, and alcohol.
People spit wine for a variety of reasons. Wine professionals at tastings, expos, and training sessions have to spit in order to do their jobs: no one can drink upwards of fifty samples of wine without getting drunk! Others spit the first sample of wine every time so they can approach the next sip ‘fresh’.
It’s up to you and dependent on your situation. If it’s a casual night of Netflix and Cabernet, no need to get out the spit bucket. But if you’re touring multiple vineyards in Napa in one day, it may be wise to spit more than you swallow.
How Do I Learn to Detect Notes in Wine?
You’ve probably seen people stick their nose into a glass of wine and say something like, “I’m getting cherries and hints of cinnamon”. There are no cherries or cinnamon sticks in that wine. The more accurate representation is that the wine is evocative of cherries and cinnamon. It’s putting that drinker in mind of cherries and cinnamon.
As you’re building up this library, you may smell a wine and think, ‘this reminds me of Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s house’. Well, what does that mean? Was there a buffet of pumpkin and apple pies? Maybe your grandpa smoked cigars, and maybe Grandma wore a rose perfume. Once you’ve parsed out why it reminds you of Thanksgiving at your grandparents’ house, you can say with confidence, “I’m getting notes of warm baking spices, roses, and cigar smoke”.
The thing about learning to detect these notes is that the homework is fun. It includes tasting and smelling all manner of things, as well as drinking more wine! Let’s break it down:
If we’re sticking with the cherries analogy, think about the differences between fresh cherries and canned, or brandied cherries, or cherry-flavored Twizzlers. Not only do all of these actually taste differently from one another, but they also feel differently in the mouth. A fresh cherry is more acidic than a brandied cherry, for example. So if you have a wine that puts you more in mind of a fresh cherry than a brandied cherry, then you’ve found out something about that wine: it’s a fruity and tart wine.
As you start examining these differences, you’ll want to find other common wine descriptors and delve into them. In addition, you can’t pick out ‘boysenberry’ in a wine if you’ve never tasted a boysenberry. Be on the lookout for items you’re unfamiliar with in wine descriptions so you can get an understanding of what they taste, smell, and feel like.
There are also off-the-wall wine descriptions out there, like ‘old leather’, ‘petrol’, ‘tar’, and ‘cat pee’, among many others. In this article, we talk about how terroir affects wine, and sometimes it means producing really strange aromas! This is normal even if it’s weird.
The more wine you taste and the more you listen to experts, the more you will learn! Even the most experienced wine drinkers have only scratched the surface of all there is to know about wine; that’s what makes it such a fascinating subject!