How to Wine Taste Like a Pro
Want to learn how to wine taste just like a Sommelier? Want to turn yourself into a wine tasting expert? Develop your skills in wine tasting using this simple guide and deepen your appreciation for fine wine. Let your senses do the work as you search into the finest wine the world has to offer.
Click on an item on the table below to go straight to the topic of your interest.
- 1 Finding a Good Wine Tasting Environment
- 2 Firing Up Your Senses on Evaluating Wines
- 3 Evaluating with Your Sense of Sight
- 4 Evaluating with Your Sense of Smell
- 5 Evaluating Your Sense of Taste
Finding a Good Wine Tasting Environment
Wine tasting is more than just knowing how your wine tastes. It is more of appreciating its every characteristic and evaluating its distinct flavors and qualities. The only way you can efficiently do this is by channeling your attention to your wine and forgetting everything else that surrounds you.
Wine tasting requires great focus and concentration. You can only do this with accuracy by making your circumstances conducive for wine tasting. You need to shut yourself out from any possible distraction such as noise and strong aromas. You have to keep your senses as neutral as possible so you can effectively distinguish the unique qualities your wine has.
A wine’s serving temperature also has a great impact on your perception. Any wine served either too cold or too warm will fail to deliver it’s true taste and qualities. Hence, you need to ensure that your wines are always chilled to perfection as they are served.
Before you take on evaluating your wine, take time checking on your wine glass. Make sure your glass is clear and there are no other particles around it. You can give it a quick rinse by swirling your wine around, covering the entire inside of the glass. You can do this several times till your glass clears out. This is called glass conditioning and should never be done with any other substance but wine. This is done to ensure that your wine is kept in its purest form.
Firing Up Your Senses on Evaluating Wines
There are a couple of steps that you need to follow through as you evaluate your wine. You need to put all your senses to work to do it right. This process of evaluation includes the use of your senses as follows:
- Sense of Sight
- Sense of Taste
- Sense of Smell
Evaluating with Your Sense of Sight
Once you have ensured that your environment is well suited to wine tasting, you can now start examining your wine. To do this make sure that your wine glass is at least one-third full. There are generally four ways as to how you can get a visual evaluation, and these are as follows:
Straight Angle View
In order for you to evaluate your wine at a straight angle view, look straight down into the glass. Remember to hold your glass to light as you gently give your wine glass a tilt. Let your wine roll towards its edge so you can see exactly how it’s color changes.
Remember not to look solely at the center of the wine glass just as so you can get a good sense of its color. It’s depth of color is a clue to the density and saturation of your wine and should assist you in identifying what variety of grape your wine is made from.
A deeply saturated purple-black colored wine is indicative of your wine as being a Syrah or Zinfandel. While a lighter, pale brick shaded wine on the other hand would mean that it can either be a Pinot Noir or Sangiovese.
If you want to check on your wine’s clarity then you need to view your wine on it’s side. A wine held in the light and evaluated from this perspective will help you assess if there are any particles present on your wine.
If your wine looks rather muddy or murky than usual then there could be some chemical or fermentation problem that has occurred. Maybe there are sediments present as the wine was left unfiltered and had been shaken up before it was poured.
What you need to look into using this technique is purity. Any wine that looks clear and sparkling is almost always a good sign.
You will find it really amusing to know that the color of your wine can provide hints about it’s age and weight. To do this, put your wine glass near a white backdrop and give it a tilt so that the wine thins out near your wine glass’ edge.
If the color seems faded and watery towards its edge then it indicates your wine is thin and is likely an insipid wine. If your white wine looks rather dusky and brown then it has possibly oxidized or is way past it’s prime. A red wine on the other hand that looks orangey or rusty brick and may have already lost it’s fine structure and is old.
Swirling your wine is by far among the most exciting part of visually observing your wine. To do this properly, you need to keep your wine firmly on a flat surface and give it a swirl.
Although this is not really recommended for beginners, it would pay to find time studying how it’s done, as this technique helps you determine your wine’s alcohol and glycerin content.
As you swirl, look into the “legs” and “tears” that run down on the sides of the glass. A wine that forms good legs or tears generally contains more alcohol and glycerin.
Evaluating with Your Sense of Smell
The second step in evaluating wine utilizes your sense of smell. To get a good sniff of your wine, give it a good swirl and hover over the top of the wine glass. Linger on every spot by focusing only on the scent of the wine at hand but never bury your nose down into the wine glass. You may want to take short quick breaks in between sniffs and let its aroma filter through to your brain.
There are certainly a number of aromas you can smell inside a wine glass. However, you don’t have to find them all, as long as you know the key wine fragrances.
You may find it daunting but once you get used to it, you’ll be able to have a deeper appreciation for wine. You’re likely to develop a better understanding on their unique characteristics.
Let us have a look at some of the aromas you may find in your wine;
Sniffing Through Wine Flaws
One reason why you should find some time learning how to give your wine a good sniff is to identify flaws and faults. The very first thing you should look into are signs of spoilage. A wine that is yet to be uncorked yet smells like a decaying wood or a wet newspaper means it is spoiled. These wines are better off thrown down your drain than your stomach.
If you find your wine smelling as if somebody has just lit up a match, it indicates that your wine has been bottled with high quantities of sulfur dioxide or SO2. You may be able to save your wine by giving it a strong and vigorous swirl and it should be good to go.
A good sense of smell lets you detect the presence of some undesirable components of your wine. A sour smelling wine with the likes of vinegar is indicative of the wine fault VA or Volatile Acidity. If your wine has a strong scent as that of nail polish, then you’re wine is no longer drinkable as it already contains ethyl acetate.
There are still quite a lot of flaws you can find in wine by using your sense of smell. Learning how to identify these common flaws is a little less important than knowing each of your main wine components smell. It’s a good thing to learn how to look for flaws, but knowing exactly what to look for in a wine’s aroma is more rewarding.
The Sweet Fruity Scent of Grapes
After checking off-aromas from some common wine flaws, look for fruit aromas. To state the obvious, wine is made from grapes and it should smell like them. Most wine smells like fresh fruits unless they are made from grapes that are either too old, too sweet or perhaps served too cold.
When you continue to develop your sense of smell in wine tasting you should be able to discern the differences with fruits grown in different conditions. However, it takes more time and effort and you should have enough dedication to get to this level.
The Wondrous Smell of Vegetation
Another thing you need to look into as you sniff your wine are it’s floral aromas. Such a smell is common among white wines with grapes grown in cool climates. Great examples of these flowery smelling wines are Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and some Rhone varietals such as Viognier.
Some wines on the other hand can carry herbal or grassy scents. A Sauvignon Blanc often has a strong grassy aroma. A Cabernet Sauvignon meanwhile has the scent of a herb. You can certainly find the refreshing scent of Provencal herbs in Rhone reds.
Not all the bad odor you find in wine are indicative of a flaw. Some wines really don’t smell as good as you expect but taste really good. A great example would be those red and white wines that smell like the earth, mineral or a rock. Some of the finest wines have smells exactly as that, as they are grown with specific conditions of the vineyard or “terroir”.
When you find wine smelling like a mushroom, don’t be alarmed. Some wines do tend to have an earthy smell. They may indicate a nuance or flaw, but they can also tell where your wine has originated. When your wine seems to have a really strong mushroom smell, this could mean that the grapes used in making your wine was not sufficiently ripe.
A smell of leather or a horse in your wine may be a good accent, but watch out for too much of it as it is suggestive of brettanomyces. It is type of yeast that gives out a farmyard smell to your wine. Too much concentration of this destroys the taste of your wine and thus causes confusion on your palate.
Wine Barrels Aroma
Whenever you consume your wine and you may panic a little that it has somehow roasted, is smokey and has a coffee like aroma. You can rest assured though, as you are most likely picking up on the scent of the barrel where your wine has aged.
There are wines that do not retain their barrel’s aroma but there are some that do. I guess it all depends on how the wine maker has made use of the barrels along with other several factors in aging your wine.
You see wine makers have different techniques in wine making, and that includes the type of oak used, the manner the barrels were made, it’s age and many other factors a wine maker may consider.
Other Aromas You Can Find
Apart from the aromas mentioned above, there are still quite a number of aromas you can discover in your wine. You may need to create some sort of a list by using your own words to describe them. Doing so will help you maintain your focus and retain the information you acquire it every time you have a glass of wine.
Much to your surprise there are some wines that will give out scent that resembles beer. You can find these in young white wines and young sparkling wines as yeast is used in fermentation. This scent however slowly disappears without a trace as the wine ages.
If you ever have a sniff of a Sauternes then you’ll notice a strong smell of honey. This is quite common in dessert wines affected with botrytis, a mold that causes grapes to lose nearly all their water content. You may find these wines a little too sweet.
A chardonnay has that nice smell of caramel and butter. The reason being is that it may have undergone a secondary fermentation. This is otherwise known as malolactic fermentation, where malic is converted to lactic acid. It softens the wine thus creating a subtle buttered popcorn aroma to chardonnays.
Now you are aware of some of the major aromas you can find in wine. With a bit of practice you should be able to impress your friends and family with your new found knowledge as a wine buff. With just a few sniffing sessions you will be able to perfectly describe your wine and even tell where and how they were made.
Evaluating Your Sense of Taste
Now we’re down to the most exciting and probably the most rewarding part of wine tasting, and that is the taste test. Yippee! Finally you can get hold of that prized vintage you have been looking and smelling into for quite a while.
Start by sipping your wine off your wine glass as if you’re sipping from a straw. Ignore everything else around you and focus on that delectable wine on your lips and palate. Let your wine circulate all throughout your mouth such that it touches all your taste buds.
You surely will encounter quite a lot flavors intertwined together and you may get confused. However, assuming that you’ve done your homework on identifying the different types of aroma then it should be quite easy for you to identify and isolate it’s flavors.
Just as so you can easily define it’s taste, find some time reading about the attributes of taste below;
Nothing could ever be more rewarding to taste than getting all the flavors in their proper proportions. There is certainly no specific formula for wine as each wine type has a unique structure and taste to boast.
What is of great importance is the balance of flavor your wine has. Your wine should never be too sweet, too sour, too alcoholic or too flabby. It shouldn’t be too bitter either.
There are some wines that mask it’s flavors and cannot be detected with your sense of smell on it’s own. A good example will be those of dry wines, where there is a great mix of flavors derived from both their aroma and taste.
It isn’t always enough that your wine has all it’s flavors in proper proportions. You see, balance is a different thing from harmony. A harmonious wine is something where all the flavors are seamlessly put together. You can barely taste a single flavor standing out from the rest.
Wines that possess a great harmony even when they haven’t aged that much is a sign of a high caliber winemaking process. Thus wines produced under these circumstances are generally more tasteful than those that aren’t.
Budding wine drinkers are generally only able to recognize simple flavors in wine. They often limit themselves into the types of wine that they are familiar with or for those that they find likable.
Your ability to understand and dissect the complexities of wine is a good way to weigh down your progress in wine tasting. If you have learnt exactly how to isolate flavors from wines that are beyond your taste spectrum and preference then you have just achieved a higher level of wine tasting ranking!
There are quite a lot of complex wines you can find these days. These wines are those that seem to change their flavor from the moment you take a sip, right up to the moment you swallow. It’s like getting a burst of dynamic flavor as you let your wine linger inside your mouth to savour it’s fine taste.
The next time you have a glass of wine, observe exactly how long a wine’s taste lingers on your mouth. The length of time where your wine’s flavor sits right inside your mouth is a good way to gauge its complexity.
In the simplest of terms a complete wine is something that is balanced, harmonious, complex and evolved. It has to be something that gives you great satisfaction that it makes you want to have another glass.
In addition to wine tasting, your wine needs to be kept in optimum condition to allow it’s fullest flavour and structure to come through so you can maximize the experience. For further information, please read my post titled “How To Bring Out The Best In Your Wine” by clicking here.