An introduction to tasting and evaluating wine

An introduction to tasting and evaluating wine using the same methods as professionals.

Tasting wine like a professional isn’t as simple as taking a sip and swallowing it. In order to determine what type of wine it is, what flavours are present and whether it is any good, there is a lot of analysing to do! This article will guide you to do a wine tasting just as well as a professional so you too can know these vital things about your next bottle of wine!

Start with looking at it

You might not think so, but the colour of wine will give you a lot of information. Take a look at the wine against a white background. It helps to keep the glass upright and hold a sheet of white paper behind it. The wine is easily influenced by any light and colour around it.

When looking at the wine, you’re looking for the shade of colour, as well as the depth. Some varieties, like Cabernet Sauvignon, are often dark and intense, whereas Pinot Noir for example, is light. You can describe the wine in several types of red including ruby, garnet and purple - so it’s nice to familiarise yourself with the types of red colours. 

This is used more commonly used for blind tastings and is used as a clue to what variety the wine might be before you even smell or taste it.

Take a smell

The aromas of wines are just as (if not more) important as the flavours of the wine. The aromas tell you a lot about the wine, and often offer more than what the taste offers. For the best results, follow these steps:

1. Swirl the glass gently, either on the table or in the air. This helps to release all the lovely aromas.

2. Bring the glass toward your face and put your nose into the glass. Ensure the glass is touching the bridge of your nose so all the aromas are directed at your nose. Don’t allow any room for the aromas to escape the glass.

3. Sniff a few times. Some people prefer short sniffs while others breathe in the aroma. Find what works for you.

4. Try to think of which aromas you are experiencing. Are the aromas fruity? Are they spicy? Do you smell oak, smoke or even floral notes?

Try narrowing down the aromas further. What specific fruits, flowers or spices can you smell? Are they cooked or fresh? Dried rose petals or fresh rose? Some experts will even go to farmers markets and smell fruits, flowers and vegetables to increase their knowledge. After all, if you have never smelt a certain fruit (e.g. lychee) then how can you identify it in a wine?

To help narrow down these smells further, try to find these particular ones:

Fruit aromas

Dark fruits: Like plums, blackberries, blueberries and black cherries.

Red fruits: Like cherries, strawberries, cranberries.

In white wines: You can find fruits like apples, pears, peaches, lychee, pineapple, guava, gooseberries.

Floral & herbaceous notes

Many types of flowers are common, like violets, orange blossom, lavender, rose, eucalyptus, sage, rosemary, mint, vanilla.

Oak & spicy notes

Smoke, tobacco, mushroom, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, chocolate, black tea, dried leaves, bay leaves, coffee.

There are hundreds of other types of aromas you can find in a wine, but those are common ones to train yourself with in the beginning of your wine journey.

Smelling the wine can also give you an indication of whether the wine is faulty or not. If the wine is oxidized, it often smells stale or like port. When the wine is corked, there is a musty, cardboard-like smell.

Take a sip

Take a sip and swirl it gently around your mouth to fully coat your palate. It also helps to pull some air into your mouth while you have the wine in your mouth (similar to sucking through a straw.) This helps to release some of the flavours in the wine.

After swallowing, you should be able to pick-up similar flavours to those that you smelled. The important thing with the tasting of the wine is to determine other details about the wine. With the tasting, you should be able to see whether:

·         The wine has high, low or moderate acidity levels. High acidity levels make your cheeks pucker as lemon juice would.

·         If red wine has low, medium or high tannin levels. The tannin causes a dry, bitter feeling in your mouth, especially around your gums. So, if a wine has high tannin levels, your lip is likely to stick to your front teeth!

·         The wine is sweet, semi-sweet or dry. That’s relatively simple to determine!

·         Whether the wine is full-bodied, light-bodied or medium-bodied. There are several things that increase the wine’s body. High alcohol wines, sweeter wines and wines with low-acidity tend to be fuller in body.

Taking a look at the tannin, acidity, body and specific flavours can help you determine whether the wine is balanced or not. The wine should be good and round, without any particular elements sticking-out in an unpleasant way.

Just keep in mind that many wines naturally have high acidity, for instance, Sauvignon Blanc. So it isn’t uncommon for some elements to be more pronounced than others. Nothing should be unpleasantly dominant, however.

Taking all these many things into account will help you determine whether a wine is a good quality bottle or whether it is just a simple wine. For a beginner, this may seem like a lot of information to take in – but with time, practice, and a lot of wine, it will be like second nature!

If you are interested in developing your wine tasting skills further, organisations such as the The Wine & Spirit Education Trust offer courses from beginner level through to expert (Level 1 - Level 4) that we would highly recommend for any aspiring wine professional.

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