When you dine in a restaurant, you’ll always have a sommelier (AKA wine specialist) to help you pick the perfect wine for the occasion. In such a case, you don’t need to know much about wine.
All you need is to articulate your preferences and the specialist will provide recommendations.
But what happens when you’re buying wine by yourself?
Whether you’re shopping in a store or online, you’ll have endless choices to choose from. While having options is great, it also presents challenges for those who aren’t familiar with wine. The labels and product descriptions of flavor notes, the origin of the grapes and the color characteristics of each bottle might complicate things.
So, how do you choose the right wine from virtually endless choices?
Here’s a complete guide on wine tasting to help you out:
What Is Wine Tasting?
Simply put, wine tasting is the sensory evaluation and examination of wine.
Contrary to popular belief, wine tasting isn’t purely based on the actual taste of the wine. It’s a comprehensive process that requires the use of several human senses, including sight, smell, and of course, taste.
In the professional realm, sommeliers use specialized terms to describe the wide range of aromas, flavors, colors, and other wine characteristics. Informally, recreational wine tasting might use some of the terms used by sommeliers, but with less analysis and more personal appreciation.
Speaking of recreational wine tasting, there’s no better place to do it than Tennessee. Nashville tours will show you around in an exciting wine tasting tour of vineyards and wineries.
But first, let’s get you through wine 101.
What Drink Qualities Should You Look for When Wine Tasting?
As it turns out, wine tasting isn’t always restricted to your palate. To learn how to taste wine like a pro, you need to pay attention to the following characteristics:
With any food or drink, what our brains perceive as “taste” is actually a combination of touch, taste, and smell bundled into one sensation. Since smell contributes to the actual taste of your wine, take your time smelling it before you bring it to your palate.
To best smell, your wine, swirl it in your glass so it can release more of its aromas. Aromas can be elegant, pungent or strong. With smell, you can actually learn a lot about the wine’s condition and possible faults.
Here are a few examples of what to look out for:
The reduction is a production technique winemakers use to preserve fresh, vibrant, fruity notes. But sometimes they overdo it, and the resulting wine comes with a smell or boiled cabbage, struck matches, or even rotten eggs.
Low reduction levels, on the other hand, result in a more fruity smell and flavor. The correct term for this is minerality.
Oxidation is the opposite of reduction. Well oxidized wine has richer brown color and aromas of caramel, honey, and toffee. Faulty oxidation results in too much oxygen in the wine, which reduces the richness of the fruit flavor.
A reminiscent of damp cardboard, TCA taint reduces freshness and fruit flavor levels. Low TCA levels in wine can be hard to detect through smell. But, high levels will give the wine less freshness and fruit flavors, and that indicates faulty production or taint by the cork.
Next up, is how to use aromas to identify good wine. In this regard, there are three sub-categories.
Here’s a deeper look at each:
These are the dominant floral and fruity aromas you encounter when you first smell the wine. They aren’t hard to detect and help you determine the type of grapes used to make the wine.
These are the background aromas that result from the production process and not the grapes. Oak is one of the most profound secondary flavors. Depending on the oak type used in production, you might smell aromas such as tobacco, coconut, cedar, leather, and vanilla.
If the wine underwent malolactic fermentation in production, you’ll smell buttery and nutty aromas. If developed via lees contact (dead yeast cells), you’ll sense cream, biscuit and yeast aromas.
Tertiary aromas originate from the aging of wine. If oxidized for a long while in Oak barrel, the wine will have tertiary aromas of chocolate, coffee, and toffee. Often, you’ll smell these alongside secondary aromas originating from the oak itself.
In case of a reductive aging process—often in wine that’s been bottled for a long time—the prominent aromas will be earthy. Examples of these include vegetable and mushroom aromas.
Appearance refers to the opacity, color and wine legs of the wine. Any wine tasting for beginners guide will tell you that you shouldn’t spend over five seconds on wine appearance.
You’ll find most answers about the wine through its appearance. For instance, you can know the ABV, grape variety, and the vintage.
This is the part of wine tasting that most people think of when they hear of the term. Here, you use your tongue to examine the characteristics of your wine.
There are three things to look for when using your tongue to evaluate wine.
Here’s what each reveals:
The Actual Taste
This refers to what you detect on your tongue when you sip the wine for the first time. Your tongue typically detects bitter, sour, salty and sweet tastes. With wines, you’re always going to sense some sourness. That’s because grapes are naturally acidic.
The level of sourness depends on the climate and type of grapes. Some types are popular because of their bitterness, which manifests in the forms of light, soothing flavor of tonic water. Other white wines retain some of their natural grape sugars, which give them a flavor of natural sweetness.
Some wines have salty flavors, but this is very rare.
Texture refers to how the wine feels on your tongue. Often, increased texture results from wine ripening and higher alcohol content. Ethanol is responsible for giving the wine its texture because it’s perceived “richer” compared to water on the tongue.
You might also detect tannin, which manifests in the form of tongue-drying or sand-paper sensation in some red wines.
Wine for beginners guides rarely cover this, but wine taste is also based on time. Here, there’s the beginning, followed by mild palate and then the Finnish. The taste length is all about the amount of time it takes for the aftertaste to vanish from your tongue.
Generally, the longer the good aftertaste lasts, the better the wine.
Drawing a Conclusion After Wine Tasting
After the wine tasting, you’ll need to sum up everything you gathered from its taste, appearance, and smell. This is where you give your final verdict on every characteristic, and determine if it’s a good fit for your personal preferences.
As for blind wine tasters, this is where you try to guess the name of the wine you’ve just tasted. But if you’re not there yet, start by hosting private wine tasting events with family and friends and work your way up to becoming a pro taster.
Don’t forget to share this information with other wine enthusiasts.