Wine Tasting 101 (5 easy steps)

5 Steps for tasting wine on a wine tour

How to taste wine is no different than learning to really appreciate music or art.  The pleasure you receive is proportionate to the effort you make. The more you perfect your sensory abilities and the more you practice, the better you will be able to understand, appreciate and enjoy the variations and details that great wines express. The time and effort you invested in training your palate and senses are rewarding—and very, very fun.

While there is no one right or wrong way to learn how to taste, some “rules” do apply.  A good place to begin is to be methodical and find a consistent approach.  A good habit to form is whenever you have a glass of wine in your hand, make it a habit to take a minute, shut out all distractions and focus your attention on what is in your glass.  Here are the 5 tips to help you remember how to taste wine.

Step 1 -See

The first step is to look at the wine against a white backdrop, like a blank piece of paper. This ensures that wines are not distorted by external colours.

In addition to the colour, there are various levels of intensity to assess.  White wines gain colour as they age, ranging from lemon and gold to dark caramel. By contrast, reds lose colour and intensity with age, as they progress from purple to ruby to deep tawny. So while a typical aged shiraz might be described as pale or medium garnet (a hue between ruby and tawny), in contract a young shiraz lean toward deep purple or ruby.

Step 2 -Swirl

Here’s where it starts to get fun.  First, you swirl.  Swirling allows for increased oxygenation, which can bring out more complex secondary aromas.

The point here is to expose the wine to oxygen and kick-start the process of it 'opening up' and expressing its full range of aromas and flavours.  When it comes to technique, find what feels most comfortable to you.  It's often easiest to start out by keeping the base of the glass on the table and then gently swirling in a clockwise motion.

Step 3 -Sniff 

It is best to smell immediately after swirling, with your mouth slightly open as you breathe in.  The description of the palate, or what you taste, is by far the most in-depth category.  Remember to all smells are subjective, so don’t be shy to say what you can smell.  With white wines, for example, try calling out what citruses you smell—there's always at least one in there—and then ask yourself if you smell orchard fruits or tropical fruits.  Once you feel comfortable with that, try to break it down a little more:  Does it smell like freshly squeezed lemon juice, or kind of bitter, like lemon rind?  Does it smell like biting into a crisp green apple, or like sweet baked apples?  And what about non-fruit flavours?  Does it smell like potting soil or herbs or flowers?  Red wines, for example a you Cabernet Sauvignon could smell of black fruit flavours like black cherry, blackcurrant.  Whereas a Pinot Noir would more likely display red fruit characters like red cherry, strawberry and raspberry.  Once you’ve nailed down the flavour profile, determining the length of the finish and the wine’s overall complexity is the final step.

Step 4 -Sip

And now, the moment you've been waiting for:  actually tasting the wine.  Here  you should try to identify and analyse the flavours.   A good way to start by trying to see if you can taste the same flavours you smelled.  Are they there, or do you taste something new and different?  In white wines, you'll be determining things like how highly the acidity is in the wine.  In other words, how much does it make your mouth water?  If it's a lot, it's a high acid wine.

 In red wines, you'll be looking for the amount of tannins.  For e.g. how much sharpness is there, and if it's really drying out your mouth.  Another good hint is to focus and evaluate the fruit level:  Is it super fruit-forward but dry, or does it actually taste sweet?  Or is it not fruity at all?  And what is the texture like?  Does it go down your tongue like a laser beam, straight and direct, or does it have a fat, round, mouth-coating texture?  Again, don’t be afraid to say what you are tasting.  Remember, there are no correct or wrong answers.   


Step 5 -Savour and Spit

(if you want to)

For high-quality wines, the tasting process doesn't stop at the swallow. The best wines just go on and on.  This is called the “lenght" of the wine.  When you're at the savour stage, you're trying to assess how long the taste lasts: Does it have a short finish (not ideal) or a long finish (yes, please)?  Also think about whether the wine tastes balanced, or whether any characteristics like acidity or alcohol overshadowed others. And most importantly, did you like it or not overall, and why?  If you didn’t like it, time to spit it out and if you liked it, buy a bottle!