What should you look and taste for in a wine?
The origins of wine tasting are as ancient as its production. However, modern, professional wine tasters (sommeliers for example, or buyers for retailers) generally use formal, wine-tasting terminology to describe the range of different flavours, aromas and general characteristics of a wine. Though there are professionals in the industry, anyone can take part in more informal wine tastings where an expert will guide you and explain the terminology, but apply a less analytical process for a more general, personal appreciation.
Whether at a professional or informal wine tasting, the four recognised stages to wine tasting are generally:
of the wine (colour..)
"in glass" - the smell of the wine (adjectives often used to describe the wine’s fragrance are ‘fruity’, ‘floral’, ‘spicy’, ‘woody’, ‘vegetal’, ‘earthy’ etc.)
• "in mouth" sensations
; the "texture" of the wine; its "body" and its "balance"
or "finish" - How balanced is the wine when it comes to sweetness, acidity, fruit, or alcohol?
These four stages are then combined in order to establish the complexity and character of a wine: for example, what is the wine’s potential? Is it suitable for aging? What are the possible faults of the wine? and so on..
How to taste wine
Appearance: Study the colour against a well-lit service. With maturity, white wines tend to darken while with red wines, the general colour depends on the grape variety, regardless of the age of the wine. When it comes to more mature wines, the rim always is a good indication of age since more mature wines develop a "bricky" or "chestnut" rim.
Fragrance: Swirl the wine in the glass to cause the wine release more of its aromas and then smell the wine. The different smells are generally categorised by fruity, floral, spicy, vegetal, earthy and woody. The smell of the wine will be an indicator of what tastes you will experience later.
Taste: The next step is to take a generous sip - roll the wine around in your mouth. To savor a wine you have to hold it in the mouth for a few seconds, to saturate the taste buds. Then you allow the wine to pass slowly through the mouth. Think about the wine’s structure and it's texture: is it rough or smooth? is it light or full? Is the wine well-balanced insofar as the combination of sweetness, acidity, fruit, alcohol and tannin (in red wine only) is concerned?
Order of tasting: Heavy wines as well as sweet wines can dominate lighter wines and therefore influence the taster's assessment of those wines. That’s why wines should be tasted in the following order: sparkling wines, light whites, heavy whites, followed by rose wines, light reds, and then the heavy reds finally followed by sweet wines.
You will have to determine which type of wine it is from in this order by appearance and smell alone (keep in mind that heavy wines will be deeper in color and they’ll also smell more intense). An indicator for sweet wines is that, since they are denser, they will leave thick streaks (called legs) down the inside of the glass, when you swirl it.
To sound like you have it all sussed, use these common sensory descriptions of popular wines when out and about!
: blackcurrants, eucalyptus, chocolate, tobacco
:black cherry, plums, tomato
: tobacco, black/white pepper, blackberry, smoke
: black cherry, pepper, mixed spices, mint
Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris)
: white peach, pear, apricot
: apple, honey, citrus, musk
: citrus fruit, peach, honey
: lime, gooseberry, grass, grapefruit, passionfruit, aparagus