As I’ve said before, I don’t consider myself a Wine Snob. I’m someone who likes wine, just like you do. Over the years, I’ve discovered some things that have helped me learn more about wine, including the “proper” way to evaluate wine at a tasting. Here are a few helpful pointers for the next time you’re at a formal tasting, or if you just want to impress your friends.
First, look at the color. Tilt the glass about 45 degrees, and look at the liquid against a white background. Pay particular attention to the rim of the liquid. That’s where the true color will show. The deeper the color, the younger and more concentrated the wine will probably be. Amber, brick-like tones in a red wine are typical indicators of age—this could be good or bad, which is why all of the steps in tasting wine are important when done together. Deep, golden colors in a white typically indicate richness and concentration, but again, could be a sign that the wine is past its prime.
Next, take a sniff. Aroma is the second indicator of quality. Give the wine a good swirl while holding the base of the glass on the table. Stick your nose in the glass and take a deep inhale (go on, stick it way in there!). Swirl again and try this one more time, inhale through your nose with your mouth slightly open. Think about the aroma. What do you detect?
Now you get to take a sip and identify the flavor. Start with a small sip and hold it in your mouth. Let it flow on top of and around your tongue for a few seconds, then swallow. Take another sip and this time, swish the juice inside your mouth. Try to open your mouth a bit and lightly clamp your top teeth on your lower lip. This creates a very small opening to suck air in, like drinking through a straw. Letting the air run through the wine helps to release more of the aroma and flavor inside your mouth.
Think about the wine for a few seconds before you swallow. How’s the acidity (does it tingle in your mouth)? Do you taste variations of fruit? Is the body light (like water) or heavy (like cream)? Does it remind you of something…nectarines, strawberries, vanilla, figs, currants, blackberries? Use your imagination, and maybe even close your eyes.
Finally, you can swallow. This is where it becomes personal and you can come up with your own overall impression of the wine. Do you like it? Would it taste better with food? How impressed are you with its overall quality?
Some final tips as you journey through the many varietals of wine:
• If you’re doing a formal tasting, buy a simple journal and write down your impressions of the wine. In addition to writing down the winery, grape varietals, and wine name, remember to write the vintage as well, since a different vintage of the same wine will change due to factors including growing season and harvest date.
• Don’t give up on a varietal just because you had one bad experience. Try different winemakers or different world regions using the same grape. Grapes made into wine in the “old world” style (Europe) can taste very different than the same grapes in “new world” wines. Think Shiraz from Australia and Syrah from France. Big difference—same grape.
• Everyone’s palate is different, so what you like, someone else may not. Trust yourself—there is no “right or wrong” when it comes to enjoying wine.
• Have fun! After all, it’s just grape juice.