How to Taste Wine
"Tasting [wine] is intelligent drinking."
There are innumerable ways to taste wine and the tailoring of tasting wine to your own senses should be a fun, memorable and lifelong adventure. Most of us who have been to more than one winery have heard of the Five 'S's of wine tasting (See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor), but I want to make it slightly simpler.
Wine tasting is about experiencing how a wine looks, smells and feels.
Like with any great love, looks play an important role in the enjoyment of any wine.
Beginning with clean glassware is key:
Don't use painted glasses or stemless glasses.
Painted glassware will prevent light from entering your glass as will your hand when forced to hold the bowl of a stemless glass.
Don't pour too much wine in the glass.
Two ounces at most and never above the widest part of the bowl. You want lots of surface area to help with smelling later.
Start with a Swirl
I always start by giving the wine a swirl. Swirling starts the process for me bringing my focus onto the wine and begins the process of aerating the wine.
Study the Wine Color
Color is the first factor I look at when tasting wine. A study (1) has even shown that color can change the way a wine tastes. Colors for whites will range from near crystal clear to dark gold and reds will range from light reds to deep ruby, garnet or even purple ink. Generally, the darker and deeper the color of a wine, the more flavor and complexity you can expect in the smell and taste.
Checkout those Legs
You can also start to identify how much alcohol and/or sugar is present in a wine by looking at the "legs". Sometimes called tears, basically, the more legs there are, potentially the higher the alcohol content unless there is a lot of sugar in the wine, that will diminish the number of legs.
Try identifying two or three fruits, then two or three non-fruit aromas, and lastly try to determine if oak has been used in the aging of the wine.
Be as specific as you can. I've tasted Chardonnay that had aromas reminding me of Vaseline, Vignoles(2) with aromas of fruit cocktail pears and I've tasted Shiraz that had an aroma of strawberry cheesecake.
Keep in mind that the majority of your sense of taste is bound up in your sense of smell. So the aromas you smelled in the wine should be the flavors you'll taste. That means, that instead of tasting for flavor, we'll be tasting for textures.
As silly as it may sound, swishing, slurping, and swirling will help to coat the entire surface of your mouth. Your cheeks can help determine tannin and body. Your tongue will feel acidity, sweetness, and alcohol.
Pay attention to the first impression and the last. Your first impression is usually described as ____-forward. If your very first taste makes you think fruit, you would say "fruit-forward". Your last impression is referred to as "the finish". I tasted a gently-oaked Chardonel today that tasted like a single-origin chocolate on the finish.
What is more difficult to describe is the mid-palate which is more difficult to sense because it is most often used when eating and can often be dulled due to use. "Mid-palate" can be described as everything you feel in your mouth between your first impression and your last. It's usually described as flat meaning very little happening or complex meaning a lot happening.
Rinse and Repeat
After you've completed these 3 steps, I recommend repeating them at least once. You'll find you get more and more from a wine as the temperature changes and as more air gets into the wine and starts to vaporize some of the wine releasing compounds into the glass for your nose to capture.
Visit a local Kansas City Winery for more tips.
2 pronounced (vin-YOL)