How to Taste Wine
Sipping wine casually in the comfort of your home is a quaint and relaxing experience. When it comes to professional wine tasting, there are a few things you should know to bring out your wine’s best qualities.
Wine tasting is an art form, and we’re here to show you exactly how it's done.
This wine-tasting guide will teach you everything you need to know to taste like a pro.
Find Your Wine Tasting Setup
To learn how to taste wine properly, we must first ensure we have the right conditions.
What you’ll need:
- Daylight to See the Colors in Your Wine
- Wine Slightly Chilled Below Room Temperature
- An Environment Without Strong Smells
- Wine Glasses
- Solid Surface
Now that you have your setup, it’s time to enjoy your glass of wine.
How to Have the Best Wine-Tasting Experience
Follow these four steps for an exquisite tasting session.
1. Look At Your Wine in the Glass
Unless you’re doing a blind taste, ensure you’re in a place with ample lighting. A wine’s appearance can tell you many things, including the type of grapes used and what climate they were grown in.
Here are a few other essential things a wine’s appearance tells us.
The first thing to note about a wine is its color. Red wines become lighter and more rust-colored with age, while white wines tend to turn yellow or brown, becoming more pigmented with time.
For white wines, a deeper color could also be a sign of oak aging.
Especially for red wines, the hue and how translucent or opaque the color is can hint at which varietal you’re sipping.
Nebbiolo, Cinsault, and Grenache tend to have a translucent garnet or orange color on the rim, even when young. Wines like Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are deep purple from the grapes’ dark skins. Pinot Noir boasts a true ruby red color, which could also hint at its grapes coming from cooler climates.
White wines with greener hues, like Sauvignon Blanc, tend to be more savory, while gold-colored whites like Chardonnay bear a fruiter expression. Whites harvested at a lower sugar level, like Pinot Grigio, tend to be pale yellow, almost clear in color. For fortified whites like sherry, look for brown or rust colors.
Both red and white wines crafted from fully ripened grapes will often have a deeper color. If you see bubbles in your non-sparkling wine, this could suggest your wine comes from a young, cool climate.
Alcohol Content and Sugar
If you swish your wine, you may notice some liquid sticking to the glass. These are called wine legs and hint at how much residual sugar or alcohol content may be in the wine. A thicker, syrupy look suggests more alcohol and more sugar.
Now that we’ve had a good long look at our wine and have a better idea of its grapes and winemaking location, it’s time for the next step.
2. Swirl the Wine
Looking at your wine from all angles will give you a better sense of its color and show you if it has legs, bubbles, and more.
First, tilt your wine from side to side to see how clear or opaque it is. If your wine is murky, there may be a problem with how it has been fermented. If it's watery, it could be past its prime and may not be ripe for drinking. But if it shimmers, your wine is in good shape.
After you’ve assessed its color and clarity, give the wine a good swirl. This will open up the wine’s aromas and reveal any legs that may give away its alcohol or sugar content.
After your wine has swirled, it’s time to enjoy its pleasant scent.
There are many scent categories that a wine can fall under. This includes floral aromas, fruit aromas, burnt aromas, mineral aromas, herbs, and animal aromas like leather.
Aromas refer to the bright smells a wine gives off when young. Whether it's the fresh cherry scent of a new Pinot Noir or refreshing citrus notes in Sauvignon Blanc, aromas are light and pleasant.
On the other hand, if you hear a wine enthusiast mention “bouquet,” this refers to the heavier, complex aromas a wine will develop with age. After several years, your bright Pinot may smell like truffles instead of berries.
To get a better sense (pun intended) of a wine’s aromas, we must break them down into three categories:
This category refers to the tart and bright berry scents in red wine and perfumey, aromatic scents in white wine.
The heavier aromas that result from the winemaking process. After the yeast transforms the wine’s sugars into alcohol, rich textures form, an example of this could be the baked apple and caramel aromas of oak-aged Chardonnay.
Lastly, tertiary aromas are those that result from long-term fermentation. Chemical reactions unearth complex scents like forest floor, tobacco, leather, mushrooms, and stewed fruit (red wine). White wines will emit nutty, vanilla aromas over time.
Here’s what we can learn from a wine’s specific aromas.
If a wine is rich or jammy, its grapes are likely grown in a warm climate. If the wine is light and crisp, the grapes result from a cooler region.
Some regional wines carry a particular scent. For example, red wines from France’s Bordeaux region may smell earthy, while wines from Chablis or Loire may have a stone or flint scent.
Some wines have a smell so distinct they instantly give away what type of wine they are. Cabernet Sauvignon boasts deep blackcurrant aromas, while Sauvignon Blanc carries an unmistakable green pepper tang.
A buttery or yeast smell could signify malolactic fermentation, a dead giveaway for Chardonnay.
You will notice rich tobacco and spice notes when sniffing an aged red. For older whites, these will begin to smell toastier like almonds.
Not only can a wine’s scent clue you into its pleasant qualities, but it can also let you know if a wine’s gone bad. If a wine is corked (infected with fungus), it will smell like mold, warning you to steer clear.
Finally, let’s see what a wine’s taste can tell us about its qualities.
Last but not least, let the tasting notes tantalize your taste buds as you take a long sip.
Did the wine linger on your palate? This means the wine has a long finish.
Is it sweeter with fruity flavors or bone dry with a tinge of bitterness? These can all tell you what type of wine you’re sipping.
Here are some other essential factors to consider when assessing a wine’s taste.
As you contemplate the wine on your palate, does it taste thicker like milk or thinner like water? “Body” usually refers to the alcohol content of a wine. If the wine you’re tasting is more dense and warm, it’s full-bodied.
This refers to how much sugar your wine has. Sweet wines can contain over 40 grams per liter of sugar, while bone-dry wines carry less than one gram. Syrupy fortified wines like Port have an incredibly high sugar content.
Brut Champagne is as bone dry as it gets. The sweetness of a wine can also tell you if the grapes were harvested late or affected by noble rot, which is the case with the German dessert wine, Ice Wine.
Tannins come from grape skins, stems, and seeds, which are soaked in the juice during the winemaking process. It’s that puckery, dry feeling on your palate most commonly associated with red wine.
Nebbiolo from Italy carries a high tannin content. On the other hand, Gamay from Beaujolais is much lighter. Highly astringent tannins can also be a sign the grapes were harvested too early.
Acidity refers to how tart or zingy a wine tastes. Acidic wines are made from grapes grown in cooler climates and harvested early. Acidity gives a wine its brightness and contributes to its structure.
Riesling, in particular, is a white wine known for its high acidity. Wines with too little acidity may taste dull.
Wine Taste Like a Sommelier
Now that you have everything you need for your wine-tasting party, whether it be many people or just you, you’re ready to taste like a pro.
For select wines at a fantastic price, visit the Macy’s Wine Shop for everything you need for your next tasting.
For more information on all things wine, visit our blog here.