October 25, 2013
How to Taste
When folks find out that I teach the occasional wine tasting class- the question I can always count on getting is, “Why do you have to teach people to taste wine?” To this, I typically respond that while drinking is fun and easy- you raise your glass and take a good swig, tasting is about appreciating the complexities and romance that wine has to offer and being able to share it with other people.
For the most part, people buy wine based on recommendations. With that in mind, tasting becomes part of telling a story- it’s about sharing an experience. And after a while, tasting wine becomes automatic (much like recalling a fond memory). So let’s dive into the basics that will arm you with the knowledge you need to start tasting!
Step #1 – Appearance
How a wine appears can tell you a lot more than you think. There’s a lot that goes into the visual aspects of wine: color, intensity, and clarity. The best way to observe the appearance of a wine is from the rim in proper lighting and preferably against a white background. Is the wine cloudy, does it contain sediment, or perhaps it’s bright or brilliant when light is seen through it. Is the intensity of the color deep and solid, saturated perhaps or even thin? And what hues can be seen through the color of the wine?
There’s a reason why wine is often described in comparison to precious gems. Ruby red Pinots to deep Garnet Cabernets and even Golden Chardonnays. Maybe a red wine has deep purple tones or perhaps a white shows a bit of straw yellow.
Step #2 – Bouquet
The aromas of a wine can be a lovely thing. It’s incredible that from grapes, we can take in a plethora of scents like raspberries, herbs, butterscotch, and chocolate- just to name a few. In smelling wine, I recommend first trying to catch the aromas of the wine before swirling. Then try swirling the wine in your glass to invigorate and aerate it to bolster the intensity of the bouquet.
A fun technique I’ve learned recently is smelling in different ways- active and passive inhalation.
Active Inhalation – Focus your eyes and open your moth. Breathe in through your nose while simultaneously breathing in through your mouth.
Passive inhalation – when smelling the wine, relax muscles in your face and just breathe in through your nose.
Try both methods to detemine which your prefer. Regardless of how one smells wine, the important thing is to be patient. The bouquet of a wine can offer insight into the character and origin of the wine.
Step #3 – Palate
Now we’ve hit everyone’s favorite part of wine tasting, the actual tasting portion! It’s been my instruction and now recommendation, to always start off with a quick sip purely for first impressions. Do you generally like it? After this impression, tasting at the sensory level becomes a journey.
After swirling the wine, take a good sip- not so much that you need to swallow, but enough to swirl around your mouth as different parts of your mouth, tongue, and gums taste and sense different aspects of the wine. From here, take the time to assess with a few sips all of the following:
- Is the wine dry or sweet?
- What’s the acidity like- how much salivation does it cost?
- How does the body and mouth-feel of the wine feel?
- Go into the flavors- what do you taste at first and how does it evolve?
- Finally, take some time to appreciate the finish? Are there lingering flavors or a particular mouth-feel?
Answering these questions is a great way to tell a wine’s story. Now when you say you like or dislike a wine, this will help you start to explain why. With that in mind, I hope you’ll begin enjoying wine the way winemakers hope you will- share the wines you love with your friends and loved ones.