How to Taste Wine - For the Enjoyment of it!
Wine tasting can be intimidating. Many of us are paralyzed by the selections in the store, not wanting to buy a “bad” bottle for the dinner party we’re attending, so we select the name brands we recognize in hopes we are outed as a non-connoisseur. Basically, we fake it ‘til we make it.
But wine should be enjoyed - should be an experience that one can remember (good or bad). Finding new wines is exciting, and learning about their regions and winemakers is fascinating. But we can’t experience wine-derlust if we don’t branch out and try something new!
Here’s a quick guide to selecting, tasting, and experiencing wines so you become more familiar with grapes and regions to learn what your particular tastes are.
Before you taste
Look at the back label. Most people look at the front label first and sometimes only the front label. This limits your knowledge of what’s in the bottle. The back label has all the detail the US government requires (not always super helpful, but it's there regardless) to help consumers understand what is in the bottle.
Things to look for:
Country and region in which the wine in produced. The more you taste, the more you’ll start to understand styles of these regions and what to expect from a grape from that region. I’ve learned I much prefer French sauvignon blancs to anything new world (US or New Zealand).
Varietals. This tells you which grapes were used to make the wine that is in the bottle. Some wines are single-varietal (all the same grape) and some are blends. As you taste more wine, you’ll learn which grapes you prefer and how you like them blended. Not all blends will tell you what’s in the bottle though - so you can refer to the region to get an educated guess if you just Google it.
Pay attention to price. Not in a “better wine is more expensive” way, but in an awareness so you can evaluate value according to your liking. Just because a bottle costs $80 doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy it. But it probably does mean that it is a higher quality wine, so learning what you can tell from tasting it, even if it’s not your style, helps you in determining value in wines that are your style.
OK here’s the fun part! Tasting takes practice (lucky you!) so don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t click the first few times. The key is to continue to try things, think about them and try to learn what your particular style and tastes are. There are no right answers!
When tasting wine, just follow these four simple steps. Make sure to keep notes for each step!
SEE - Look at the wine in the glass and note it’s clarity and color. Is it clear or is it hazy? Is the color intense or pale? What color is it - lemon or gold, or ruby or garnet?
SMELL - Put your nose in the glass and inhale. Some people swirl the wine a bit first (sometimes even cover the glass to keep the aromas in) but that’s not necessary. Note the aroma characteristics - so you smell fruits or flowers? Maybe oak or earth elements? Are the aromas intense or light?
SIP - Finally, take that sip! What are you tasting? The palate is typically defined by 6 characteristics - Sweetness, Acidity, Tannin, Body, Flavors, and Finish.
STATE - Now conclude what you think about the wine. Is it a good representation of the grape? It can be a quality wine, but not to your style - so jot everything down so you start to learn not only what is a good wine, but which wines you love.
After you taste
Write it down! If you’re like me, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, let alone which vintage of the sauvignon blanc I preferred because it was a little more crisp than the other. Need a cheatsheet? Download our tasting note cards template here.
Rate with your own system. Most are familiar with the 100-point systems from renowned oenophiles like Robert Parker. But I find it easier to rate based on my own style. For me on a 1 to 5 scale, 1 = I won’t drink again, 2 = will do in a pinch, 3 = could be a regular in my wine fridge, 4 = is a wine I can sit on the porch and drink all day, and a 5 = is a wine I love so much I want to bathe in it (OK more like drink a tub full of the stuff!). But you get my drift. Make it your own and make it fun and memorable.
So what are you waiting for? Start tasting! Want to do it with a group of friends? Check out our article on How to Host a Wine Tasting next.