Do you enjoy going wine tasting but not really understand what all of the “swirl, sniff, sip” is about? I’ve been in your shoes! I’ve loved wine tasting for years, but always felt lost once the wine was actually poured! In working in the wine industry and educating myself on the subject, I have finally figured out what it’s all about! In this post, I will share expert wine tasting tips so you can drink wine like a pro in no time!
I love the vineyards and sitting around the tasting room drinking library vintages. I enjoy the warm wave of happy wine brings and gosh darn it, it makes me feel fancy! Let’s be honest, wine tasting basically turns this hot mess mama into Cinderella at the ball for a few hours. Cinderella at least had mice to help in her daily chores after her coach turned back into a pumpkin (but let’s not go down that rabbit hole)!
I stumbled into wine tasting in my twenties when I told my husband we needed to step up our class and become real sophisticates. I knew that you were supposed to sniff the wine in the glass, swirl it around, and take a sip. Why? I had no idea. I just figured it looked cool and I would try to fit in with the crowd.
I quickly realized I wanted to learn, so I signed up for a wine course and forced my husband to go with me. Bad idea bringing the husband! Let’s just summarize by saying that while I was going to learn, my husband was going to drink high-end wine and embarrass his wife.
When we were asked to sip and spit our wine out with each tasting, my husband leaned in and whispered, “Hell no, I don’t sip and spit. I’m here for the party”, at which point he drank the entire first flight before the class even started.
Later, when called upon to answer the question, “what do you taste in your wine?”, my husband responded, “fermented grapes”.
Clearly, he was not the right person to tap for my journey into a higher level of sophistication. I let him keep his PBR and continued my education solo. Although, it’s not nearly as fun without him!
Through the years, besides taking courses, I have learned some additional wine tasting tips. I have found the best written resource to be, “Kevin Zraly’s ‘Windows on the World’, Complete Wine Course”. Click here for purchasing options. So much good in-depth information can be found in his book. It is well worth the read and a great place to start in educating yourself.
Although I am absolutely not as fancy as a lady should be, I do know what I am looking for when I drink wine. Here is a cheat sheet to help you bypass my sophisticate level (not hard to do) and be a knowledgeable broad on your next winery visit.
Please note, the best way to learn is by doing. Reading about wine without actually drinking it makes learning difficult, so go grab a glass and jump in.
The color of your wine is very important. It can tell you the wine variety, the age and whether or not it has been aged in wood. Red wine typically is young if it looks purple. As it ages, it begins to turn into a deeper red. Oddly enough, a good red wine is ready to drink if you can see through it. For white wines, they tend to start out as a light greenish yellow. If it is a Sauvignon Blanc, it can stay this way, but typically white wine color deepens as it ages, usually turning into a gold color.
We have all seen the swirl done before. I used to do it all the time, way before I knew what I was doing it for. Many people do the swirl and the color evaluation at the same time. The reason for the swirl is to release gases that combine with oxygen in order to aerate the glass. Many people will let a bottle of wine ‘breathe’ before serving, which has the same effect. When aerated, wine is enjoyed as it is supposed to be. A side note, wine does not need to be set out too long before enjoyed, otherwise it will go bad. It is best to enjoy the bottle shortly after being opened.
Did you know the human nose can detect a surprising array of smells? Over two thousand, which is not as good as a blood hound but still, pretty damn impressive. Smelling wine is considered the most important step in wine tasting as we are able to detect scents at a higher level than we can taste. In fact, 90% of what we taste is actually smell. That’s why when you have a stuffed-up nose you can’t really taste your food.
Traditionally, you smell the wine two or three times. When you breathe it in, you are looking for what scents come to mind and what the ‘bouquet’ or ‘nose’ of the wine is. These terms simply mean the aroma of the wine. It is incredibly difficult for some to pick out what you are smelling from a glass of wine. For many of us, wine smells like wine. The goal, however is to look for associations to other smells, such as citrus in a white wine or cranberry in a red. These smells and flavors are not actually fermented with the grapes to make the wine. They are simply distinct flavors that our noses already know, which can be associated to describe the way it smells. Enjoy smelling deeply and see what your nose detects! It is different for each person, and can take some training to do.
It is different for each person, and it can take some training to do so. Typically, you can tell the difference between red and white wines simply by smell (obviously by color too). If you start comparing the differences between different varieties of white wines, you will eventually be able to pick up on the subtle differences that make them unique.
A word of caution, like anything else, wine can go bad. If you smell moldy newspaper, used matches or strong vinegar, it’s a good indicator that your wine has gone bad. You can take a sip to check, but usually I will just throw it out. *Some wineries will let you bring back a bottle of bad wine and swap it out with a fresh bottle. Ask when you are tasting what their policies are. Obviously, don’t drink it all and then bring it back saying it was bad! 😉
Ahh my favorite, actually tasting the wine. The first sip of the wine should be slow and savored. With this sip, swirl the wine around in your mouth a bit, for about 4 seconds. Let it sit on your taste buds and warm up a bit to really release the aroma. Note the texture and weight. Our palettes can only detect 4 separate tastes: bitter, sweet, sour and salty. What do you taste with this sip? Look for the acidity to hit the sides of your mouth and the back of your throat. Sweetness is at the front of your tongue, so you taste sweetness immediately. Bitterness is all the way at the back of your tongue. When people say they taste fruit or floral notes in the wine, it is simply a smell versus a taste that their mouths are picking up. These can be some of the nicest characteristics of a good bottle of wine. The aftertaste is also huge, as with anything, it should be enjoyable even a few minutes after tasting the wine. A smooth aftertaste is a sign of a nice bottle of wine.
After all of these steps, it is time for you to decide if this is a wine you have enjoyed. If so, be like me and buy a case and savor the whole thing! Just kidding about the case! Remember the whole Cinderella thing earlier?! 😉 But really, make sure you buy something you actually enjoy, and never feel forced to buy just for buying sake. I know many people feel they should buy a bottle to be polite, but save your money for a bottle you truly enjoy. You deserve it.
Remember, “good” wine is only determined by you. If you think it is good, ignore everyone else’s opinion. There are great wine choices that fit every budget, so find your favorite and enjoy the heck out of it.
Looking for a food and wine pairing guide? Click here!