The following are the necessary steps for tasting wine. You may wish to follow
them with a glass of wine in hand. Wine tasting can be broken down into five
basic steps: Color, Swirl, Smell, Taste, and Savor.
The best way to get an idea of the color of the wine is to get a white background and hold the glass of wine in
front of it. The range of colors that you may see depends, of course, on whether you're tasting a white or red
wine. Here are the colors for both, beginning with the youngest wine and moving to an older wine:
WHITE WINE : pale yellow-green, straw yellow, yellow-gold, old gold, yellow-brown, maderized, brown
RED WINE: purple, ruby, red, red brick, red-brown, brown
Color tells you a lot about the wine. There three main reasons why a wine may have more color:
1. It's older.
2. Different grape varieties give different color. (For example, Chardonnay usually gives off a deeper
color than does Riesling.)
3. The wine was aged in wood.
Why do we swirl wine? To allow oxygen to get into the wine. Swirling releases the esters, ethers, and aldehydes
that combine with oxygen to yield the bouquet of the wine. In other words, swirling aerates the wine and gives
you a better smell.
This is the most important part of wine tasting. Humans can only perceive four tastes-sweet, sour, bitter, and
salt-but the average person can smell over 2,000 different scents, and wine has over 200 of its own. Now that
you've swirled the wine and released the bouquet, you should smell the wine at least three times. You will find
that the third smell will give you more information than the first smell did. What does the wine smell like? What
type of nose does it have? Smell is a very important step in the tasting process and most people simply don't
spend enough time on it.
Pinpointing the nose of the wine helps you to identify certain characteristics. The best way to learn what your
own preferences are for styles of wine is to "memorize" the smell of the individual grape varieties. For white, just
try to memorize the three major grape varieties: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. Keep smelling
them, and smelling them, and smelling them until you can identify the differences, one from the other. For the
reds it's a little more difficult, but you still can take three major grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet
To many people, tasting wine means taking a sip and swallowing immediately. This isn't tasting. Tasting is
something you do with your taste buds. You have taste buds all over your mouth-on both sides of the tongue,
underneath, on the tip, and extending to the back of your throat. If you do what many people do, you take a gulp
of wine and bypass all of those important taste buds.
What should you think about when tasting wine?
Be aware of the most important sensations of taste and where they occur on your tongue and in your mouth.
One can only perceive four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt (but there's no salt in wine, so we're down to
three). Bitterness in wine is usually created by high alcohol and high tannin. Sweetness only occurs in wines that
have some residual sugar left over after fermentation. Sour (sometimes called "tart") indicates the acidity in wine.
Sweetness-Found on the tip of the tongue. If there's any sweetness in a wine whatsoever, you'll get it right away.
Fruit and Varietals Characteristics-Found in the middle of the tongue.
Acidity-Found at the sides of the tongue, the cheek area, and the back of the throat. White wines and
some lighter-style red wines usually contain a higher degree of acidity.
Tannin-The sensation of tannin begins in the middle of the tongue. Tannin frequently exists in red wines
or wood-aged white wines. When the wines are too young, tannin dries the palate to excess. If
there's a lot of tannin in the wine, the tannin can actually coat your whole mouth, blocking the fruit.
Remember, tannin is not a taste. It is a tactile sensation.
Aftertaste-The overall taste and balance of the components of the wine that lingers in our mouth. How long
does the balance last? Usually a sign of a high-quality wine is a long, pleasing aftertaste. The taste of
many of the great wines lasts anywhere from one minute to three minutes, with all their components
After you've had a chance to taste the wine, sit back for a few moments and savor it. Think about what you just
experienced, and ask yourself the following questions to help focus your impressions. Was the wine:
Light, medium, or full-bodied? For a white wine: How was the acidity? Very little, just right, or too much? For a
red wine: Is the tannin in the wine too strong or astringent? Is it pleasing? Or is it missing? What is the
strongest component (residual sugar, fruit, acid, tannin)?
How do you know if a wine is good or not?
The definition of a good wine is one that you enjoy. Do not let others dictate taste to you!