How to taste a glass of wine by sommelier Amy Ullman, Drync wine blog. Wine tasting: enjoyed by some as a form of art, loathed by others as nonsense. Let’s agree that, like any fun activity, it can be taken to extremes. The process of learning how to taste a glass of wine properly is fun and easy.
Here are the 4 easy steps to have you tasting wine like a seasoned veteran in the meantime. Pro-tip: Use this guide to help write tasting notes for the wines that you try. This is a great opportunity to update the wines in your cellar as well.
You’ve probably heard of this one, and in fact seen serious wine aficionados holding up their glass of wine to the light, swirling it gently, talking about legs or tears. The sight of a wine can tell us three very important things:
As red wine gets older it tends to lose color, fading from a vibrant, shiny red to a more muted orange tone. Alternatively, white wines get darker with age. Older wines tend to have more complex, layered flavors with more secondary and tertiary characteristics.
Treatment of the wine
Some wines are super shiny – when they catch the light it’s almost as if they wink back at you. Other wines, can be cloudy or a bit dull. This typically has to do with the level of treatment a wine undergoes before bottling. Some winemakers prefer to filter and fine their wines of yeasts and additives, creating wines that are pure and clear. Other winemakers prefer a more natural approach, leaving everything in the bottle, yielding wines that are a little more unusual (think good funk).
Will you like it?
Believe it or not, you can judge a book by its cover. Tend to love light delicate Pinots? Steer clear of reds that you can barely see through. Love luscious, buttery whites? Make sure that your pour is golden yellow rather than watery white.
So now that we know the why, here’s the how: Have decent lighting, and ideally a white napkin or a piece of paper to hold behind the glass. This will help identify color and depth more effectively.
Yeah, this is another step which can seem pretentious, but is actually completely legit. Swirling the glass opens up the aromas in the glass. Plus, you can watch post-swirl wine dripping down the side of the glass. These are the legs or the tears of a wine. If it simply sheets down the glass, you have a light-bodied wine, and if it moves like molasses, you are likely sipping something more full-bodied and higher in alcohol.
There are different estimations, but up to 80% of a wine’s flavor comes from the smell. So what are you looking for? First of all is a wine delicate and subtle, super aromatic or somewhere in between? Do you have a preference for one over the other? Now how to articulate what you are smelling. Wines can produce a wide variety of aromas, and some of them are somewhat subjective. However, when you are getting started it helps to bucket smells into different categories. I like to think of tasting a wine as taking a mental trip to my local farmer’s market.
Hooray! We are finally at the fun part – actually tasting the wine. And when you do finally take a taste (because you are probably thirsty by now), make sure to do it right: no baby-bird sips, no slug and swallow. Take a proper mouthful and let it sit on the palate. if you are feeling really ambitious, go for a little slurp (yes, it sounds gnarly, but it does in fact open up the wine, and allow you to find a few new flavors). Some things to look out for:
Let the wine site on your palate for a moment. Does it full like skim, 2% or whole milk? This is the analogy for light, medium, and full-bodied wines.
Does this wine make your mouth water like sucking on a lemon? That’s acidity talking! Some descriptors and their definitions:
- “Tart”= Tastes like sucking on a lemon or lime. I personally love that flavor profile but it’s not for everyone.
- “Crisp” = Similar to a granny smith apple.
- “Fresh” = Think berries!
- “Flabby” = little to no acidity, similar to a pear.
Tannin is the bitter component in wine that dries out your teeth and gums. It is also found in walnuts and tea – try those if you would like to experience tannin outside of the glass. Grape skins and oak are what impart tannins to wine, so you will typically only find them in red wines or oaked whites. Some descriptors to keep in mind:
Low tannin wines can be described as soft, supple or velvety.
Medium tannins can be chewy, firm, or (my favorite) grippy.
High tannin wines will often be termed astringent, hard, or simply tannic.
Sweetness can often be hard to detect in wines, as perception often depends on the level of acidity, tannin, alcohol etc. For most wines they will only range from bone-dry to dry to off-dry. Although a wine might taste fruity or sweet, unless you are drinking a fortified or dessert wine, the sweetest it can be is off-dry. If you are in fact drinking a wine that is fortified, like a port or sherry, or a designated dessert wine (Eiswein or late harvest wines), they can be cateogrized as medium-sweet through sweet and very sweet.
Wines lower in alcohol (under 12.5% alcohol for whites, and under 13.5% for reds) are described as elegant, whereas wines that are higher in alcohol can be described as powerful or (if they are out of balance) hot.
Chances are that these are going to be very similar to the aromas, but make note of new components that might pop up.
Does anyone element jump out at you? Meaning, does sugar balance out the acid (think awesome lemonade)? Does the wine drop off in the middle and reappear (Some call this “Hey? Where did my wine go?” experience a donut wine)? Or does everything blend together in one lovely seamless, cohesive whole, where neither acidity, sweetness, or tannin stand out?
How long do the flavors and sensations of the wine linger in your mouth? The longer the finish, typically the finer the wine.