Wine Tasting Tips:
· Use clean, clear stemware with a wide bowl, narrower at the top, to concentrate the aromas.
· Make sure there is plenty of natural light.
· Fill the glass no more than one third.
· To best observe wines’ color and clarity, hold the glass by the stem and tip the bowl away from you about 45 degrees above/against a white background.
· When swirling, hold the glass firmly by the stem and keep it completely vertical.
· When hosting a tasting comparison, sticking to one region or style of wine is more meaningful.
Appearance is the first clue to a wine’s character and condition.
Depth of color varies by grape variety and is often an indication of a wine’s body and quality, especially in reds.
The hue can tell how well a wine has aged, because oxygen in the bottle changes the color of wine over time.
Clarity can hint at a wine’s age or the quality of its condition. For example, brighter wines tend to be younger. Cloudiness, when not simply from disturbed sediment, may indicate a flaw.
Legs: After swirling a wine, notice the “legs” that run down the sides of the glass. Thicker legs indicate a higher-alcohol wine, but it is not a measure of quality. Be sure to use a clean glass – a dirty glass can affect a wine’s legs.
Evaluating Smell and Taste
Smelling a Wine
The human nose can distinguish thousands of unique smells, and is thus our most sensitive wine evaluation tool. A wine’s smell hints at the past and present as well as the wine’s potential.
After noting a wine’s appearance, give it another swirl in the glass to release the aroma. Smell the wine immediately with a long deep breath through the nose. It should smell good (not like vinegar or mildew/must – two signs that the wine is bad). Try to detect familiar smells, such as fruits, herbs, flowers, coffee, oak, etc. An aged red wine of even moderate complexity can contain several hundred aromatic components in its bouquet.
Aroma versus Bouquet
A wine’s “aroma” encompasses the simpler smells resulting from the type of grape and its transformation by fermentation. “Bouquet” refers to more complex fragrances that come from chemical interactions in a wine during aging.
Tasting a Wine
Our tongues can detect the “tastes” of sweet, sour, and bitter in wine. This helps gauge levels of acidity*, sugar and tannins**.
Take a small sip, along with a bit of air if possible. Feel the weight/body of the wine and how it tastes before swallowing. Higher alcohol wines often have more weight and body. Then notice the finish, or lingering effect, of the wine. Higher quality wines will have a longer finish.
Key Components in Wine
*Acidity in a wine is partially a factor of how ripe the grapes were when picked. A grape picked when riper (usually in hotter climates) will have more sugar and thus less acidity than one picked sooner or in a cooler climate, when sugar is lower. Acidity gives a wine character and makes it more compatible with food.
**Tannin comes from the grape skin, seeds and stems (so it is mostly present in reds), as well as from oak barrels. The antioxidant properties of tannin allow a wine to age without much loss of color. Tannin’s astringent/puckery feel lessens with a wine’s age, while providing structure and greater length/finish. Wines that are higher in tannins often have greater aging potential: Cabernet Sauvignon (and Bordeaux blends), Syrah, Zinfandel.