Tips on ‘Wine Tasting’

Depending on who you speak to they will give you their preferred way of ‘tasting’ wine. Although they may differ, they will almost certainly have some aspects in common.

Wine is not solely appreciated with the mouth. To taste well it is necessary to use the eyes, the nose and the palate.
Therefore the key to identifying a wine lies in the combination of visual, smell and taste "triggers".

For what they are worth, here are my suggestions for tasting wine.

Pour the wine into a glass until about a quarter full. Hold the glass by the stem and the foot, this ensures that you do not obscure the liquid and that the heat from your hand does not transfer itself to the wine. Incline the glass, to about 45 degrees, against a well-lit, preferably white surface and study the colour. Is it clear, bright or hazy? Can you see through it when you hold the glass to the light?

As a rule, white wines tend to darken with maturity, it can also be an indication of the climate from which the wine originated. With red wines, the general colour depends on the grape variety regardless of age. The rim however is a good indication of age with more mature wines developing a "bricky" or "chestnut" rim.

Once you have had a good look, then swirl the wine in the glass. If you cannot do this with the glass in the air, then gently slide it back and forwards on a table or bar. This will increase the air contact and will make the wine release more of its aromas. Then take a big sniff. The smell of a wine is also its taste. Ask yourself has the wine any particular aromas - is it fresh, fruity, floral, spicy, peppery, vegetal, grassy, buttery, oily, earthy, woody or any other aroma that comes to mind?

Finally we need to taste the wine. Take a generous sip - and roll it around in your mouth. When wine-tasters suck in air through their teeth and make slurping noises, they're aerating the wine in their mouth just as they swirl it in the glass before sniffing.

What your palate is going to tell you about the wine is not its flavour. The taste buds in our mouth, about 10,000 of them distributed all over the tongue and, to a much lesser extent, the inside of the mouth, are sensitive to nothing more sophisticated than the basic 'tastes': sourness or acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and saltiness (although very few wines taste salty).

Wine also contains three more components that can have an effect on the inside of the mouth. Tannin is a red wine preservative, and has the same tanning effect (as in leather) on the inside of the cheeks as it does when encountered in well stewed tea. Some tannins can also taste bitter. Alcohol has its own, often delightful, effect on our nervous system, but wines that are particularly high in alcohol can leave a 'hot' sensation on the palate after they have been swallowed. Many wines contain a perceptible amount of fizz, gassy carbon dioxide which has a physical, tactile effect that can vary from a gentle prickle to an uncomfortably overwhelming froth. Sometimes winemakers deliberately leave a little carbon dioxide in a wine to make it taste fresher.

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