Primarily tastings are about enjoying a range of wines and discovering what you like and dislike. Wine tasting will help you identify flavours and aromas that you are particularly fond of, and thus ordering in a restaurant or bar will be easier from there on. A thorough understanding and ability to taste wine takes several years to master, but having a basic understanding will put you in good stead.
Wine tasting can be a social activity. Small and large tasting events are often held on a regular basis (weekly, monthly); this can be from an official tasting club to a small group of friends meeting at the local pub. Wine merchants and shops often hold annual open tastings to identify how well a certain vintage or producer will sell and to receive detailed feedback from customers.
Themed tasting events generally showcase a range of wines based on one theme, such as a wine or grape variety. These wines can sometimes be served alongside food which compliments the flavours, for example cheese and canapés to accompany an Italian bottle.
Tutored tastings are available for people wanting to know more information about wine; to be taught the origins/history of wine and how to taste, within an educational framework. These tutored sessions often include comparable tastings, to highlight the differences between similar wines.
The WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) offers numerous qualification grades for both professionals or enthusiastic wine amateurs; WSET school courses or online classrooms are available. The WSET school courses are provided all over the country.
Wineware have produced a complete guide to wine tasting. This guide is simple to follow and you will learn exactly how to tackle wine tasting. It has been divided into individual, manageable sections, including: tasting conditions, what you need if you are hosting a tasting evening and the three main components of tasting- visuals, smell and taste. This informational guide is intended to make tasting easier to understand and not seem so daunting. Wine tasting is meant to be a fun and enjoyable activity.
This guide is suitable for all levels of knowledge, from amateurs who want to learn ‘the art of wine tasting’, to critics, who simply need a wine tasting recap.
Whether you are hosting or attending a tasting evening, the environment is crucial to the experience. The best conditions for a wine tasting situation are:
The wine used for the tasting experience must be served at the correct temperature and offered in the appropriate glassware. ‘Conditioning the glass’ is sometimes required- which is rinsing a glass with wine (not water) if it seems musty.
If you are attending your first tasting you may be unsure what to take with you. The glassware, bottles of wines and spittoon are usually always provided at these events.
A couple of pens and a notebook are useful to take along with you, as then you are able to jot down any notes about what you taste. Wine tasting checklists may already be provided at your event, however enquire before attending if you are unsure. Alternatively, you can buy these online and in store from wine shops and merchants. A checklist can act as a useful prompt to help with your observations. Wine key term books and dictionaries are also useful for describing wines and are fairly inexpensive purchases. There are also plenty of key wine term resources available online.
Blind tasting events will completely cover the bottles and often use black wine glasses which completely stop you being able to tell the colour of the wine prior to nosing and tasting.
You will often be offered edible refreshments in between tasting different wines, this is to neutralise your palate to ensure accurate tastings. This could typically be a cream cracker or a piece of bread.
Every tasting is different and be sure to find out the protocol for tasting the wine. Some tasting events have spittoons, where you spit after you have had a chance to note its flavour and characteristics.
Remember no matter how carefully you spit, you will be absorbing the alcohol through your nose, your throat and your sinus. You should spit the wine accurately into the spittoon through pursed lips. You can always practise at home, before the tasting, if you are unsure how to do this.
Whereas, other tasting sessions will encourage and expect you to swallow a mouthful of wine and record your observations. Your glass will usually be filled about a third of the way to the top. Too much wine in a glass will stop you being able to swirl and smell it properly.
The main reason we study the appearance of wine is to identity any faults, such as; it has been badly stored or the cork seal has completely failed.
The lighting of a room really does have an impact on your tasting. The environment is crucial, natural light is preferred and white backdrops (tablecloths, walls, pieces of paper) are ideal.
There are four main ways you can view your glass. It is advisable on each of these to hold your glass against the white backdrop. This will enable you to record the colour and intensity as accurately as possible. The four eye-level observations are:
1. Straight angle view – looking at the glass straight on. You can leave it on your table and face it directly. Note down your first impression of the colour. You may find you alter this description after all four eye-level observations have been completed.
2. Side angle view – the side angle view will allow you to see how clear your wine is. You can make a detailed note of the transparency of your glass.
3. Tilted view – tilt your glass by about 45 degrees and hold it against your white backdrop. Your backdrop will help give you a better idea about the depth of the colour and the transparency.
4. Swirl – swirling your glass allows the wine to mix completely and settle; ready for your final eye-level observation, you can even record how much froth your wine has (if applicable).
Hold your glass in these four positions and record all of your observations. Remember to consider these basic questions throughout. What colour is the wine? For most red wines, orange, amber and brown colours are an indicator of age whereas purple is an indication of youth. For white wines green often indicates youth, whereas orange and brown indicate age. Rosé will appear purply-pink for youth and orange and brown indicates age. However, it is important to note some wines will change colour more rapidly than others.
Is the glass of wine clear and bright, or is it dark and murky? Try and record the intensity of the colour and opacity as well as the shade of colour. As a general rule of thumb, reds will get lighter with age and whites will get darker. However this is not applicable to all wines and some varieties can be totally misleading. Try and use scales when noting down colour, from clear to medium to intense to dull. These will help to precisely describe what you taste.
Our sense of smell is often more powerful than our sense of taste. It is especially important that you have neutral air when tasting, to ensure you are focused solely on the aroma of the wine in your glass.
In order to get a good impression of your glass of wine it is advised that you swirl your glass for around 10-12 seconds, or five good and quick rotations. Rotating your glass simply breaks the wine’s surface and releases its natural aromas and helps to vaporize some of the wine's alcohol.
The most common fault that can be discovered by your sense of smell is cork taint. This can range from stripping a wine of its fresh, fruit smell to adding a damp or musty repulsive smell to the wine.
To fully appreciate all of the aromas, you have to stick your nose down into your glass (literally) and inhale deeply. The smell should be strong enough for you to immediately reel off some familiar smells, for example, fruity, spicy. Remove your nose from the glass for a few seconds and then return again. This time try to separate distinctive smells; if it was fruity before can you smell individual fruits such as blackberries, strawberries or bitter lemons? Naming specific smells produces a more accurate assessment of a wine, rather than using words such as ‘feminine’ or ‘clumsy’.
As a general rule of thumb younger wines tend to smell more of fruit, while on the other hand older wines smell more spicy or savoury. This is only a generality and does not apply to all.
The WSET® Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (Level 2) list written by the Wine Spirit & Education Trust is a useful resource for identifying aroma and flavour characteristics at your tasting.
Recording the taste is an extremely important aspect of wine tasting. Unlike your nose, your mouth is able to recognise texture.
Depending on your tasting event, some people prefer to spit into a spittoon after several seconds, whereas others tend to swallow the mouthful of wine. It is best to clarify at the beginning of your event what the conduct for tasting is; some spit and some don’t. Most professionals will spit, especially if it is a very long tasting. Typically, nearly all social tastings drink.
There are also many wine checklist sheets that help you to record the taste of a wine. Wineware has a downloadable ‘Wine Tasting Notes’ (click here for PDF). It may also be useful to have a list of basic wine terms handy throughout your tasting. Wineware has a downloadable ‘Basic Wine Tasting Terms’ (click here for PDF).
This is where the face-pulling fun comes in! To taste properly, you take a small amount in your mouth and swish it around for a few seconds. Here is the interesting part. After swirling the wine, try sucking a little air through your lips, preferably for a few seconds. (Don’t wear anything too nice, in case you end up dribbling). This allows air to get into the wine to release its flavours.
If you are swallowing, try and think about how the wine tastes when it hits different parts of your tongue. There are five main areas of sensitivity on the tongue, including: bitter taste, sour taste (acids), salt, sweetness and finally tannin, tannin is mainly detected on the gums. A wine’s taste will linger on your tongue after you have swallowed, so try to record how long this “aftertaste” lasts.
The taste may often be described similarly to your ‘smell’ observation. However, remember your taste palate is able to identify the texture and body of a wine.
When you first taste the wine you are able to taste the texture, this includes: the acid (natural preservatives found in wine), the tannin (natural antioxidant), alcohol content and the body.
Acidity is most strongly detected by the sides of your tongue and it is what causes the mouth to water. Acid is what makes a wine taste so refreshing and vibrant. Acidity is extremely important for sweet wines as if it is too low, a wine can taste oversweet.
Tannin is present in grape skins and is a bitter flavour, most strongly detected by the back of your tongue. The astringency from the tannin is what causes the dry feeling in your mouth. The astringent sensation is felt most strongly on your gums. Ripe tannin contributes to the viscosity of a wine.
The alcohol content of a wine is basically the quantity of ethyl alcohol in a wine. You will be able to taste the content; typically wine with low alcohol content will taste sweeter.
The body describes the weight of the wine, for instance is it light or heavy, soft or firm, sweet or dry?
This is where you can jot down the exact tastes. You may have previously described it as fruity but now you can note the sweet plum and berry taste on your tongue. Try and describe the exact flavour, instead of generalities that were perhaps recorded previously by your ‘smell’ observation. Is it honey or butter, herbs or earthiness you can taste?
It is important to record how long the flavour lasts afteryou have swallowed, known as the ‘finish’. This can often relate to the body of the wine. The main descriptions of the body of a wine are:
If you enjoyed the wine and rated it highly (in visual, smell and taste) make sure you write down clearly the wine’s name, producer and the year it was produced (vintage). If you have a wine app, scan the bottle.
Wineware hope we have encouraged you to give tasting a go! Wine tasting is a fantastic opportunity to improve your knowledge and whether it is a social activity, or a qualification you are undertaking, remember to have fun. When it comes down to it tasting is an individual experience, as you are finding out what tickles and tantalises your taste buds. Remember, we all have individual tastes and preferences. Have fun trying new varieties and try to be open-minded, this way you will discover a whole new world of wines (literally).
If you require any further advice or guidance on wine tasting, please do not hesitate to contact Wineware.