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Wine Tasting

Drinking wine is easy.  Tilt the glass and swallow.  Tasting wine is different.  A little more complicated.  Tasting wine is more of a challenge. You need special tools, the proper environment, keen concentration, a really good memory and a vivid imagination.

Please don't think that sniffing, squinting, swirling, sloshing, smacking, savoring and sighing while sipping makes you a snob.  It doesn’t.  You’re practicing, perfecting and polishing your skills.  For example, do you play piano, guitar, baseball? Do you cook, sculpt, draw, paint or sew?  Are you a doctor, accountant, electrician, lawyer or teacher?  If you said yes to any of these highly refined skills, (and obviously many, many others) then you are no different than a connoisseur of wines.  To keep your skills at the high level your career or hobbies demand, you are constantly practicing, reading, studying or working to maintain the high level of expertise your profession or hobbies mandate to insure your growth and/or enjoyment.  Tasting and enjoying fine wine is no different.  For all of you wine lovers out there, it is your extreme good fortune that keeping your wine skills and appreciation at a consistent high level requires, practice, practice, practice.

Wine tasting involves all the senses; sight, smell and taste, as well as texture.  Each sense gives you clues as to the wine's overall taste profile.  With a little practice, and hopefully you are a slow learner thus requiring a lot of practice, you can learn to detect and enjoy the myriad of subtleties that good wines possess.  Only a few moments is required at the time of your first sip from the bottle to make your examination.  You will quickly find that as you improve and become more knowledgeable at detecting the variations of varietals and appellations, the more you will appreciate those delicate distinctions and the more fun you will have while savoring your wine.  Also, having a notepad and pen handy to record the wine and your observations is wise.  When I find a wine I really enjoy, I like to remove the label and save it with my tasting notations.


Pour the wine about a third full into a clear glass designed for drinking wine.  Hold the glass by the stem and tip it against a white background or good light.

Examine the wine.  Is it clear or dull?  This can tell you if the wine has a fault.  What color is it? 
White wines: white-lemon-gold
Red Wines: purple, ruby, tawny
Compare the color at the center of the glass with the color at the rim.

What can the color tell you?  White Wines become deeper, more golden with age.  Red Wines, the more purple the wine, the younger it is. In young wines, the color is usually uniform. The more brown, tawny or orange the wine, the older it is. With age, the color is not uniform and is lighter at the rim of the glass compared with the center.

Generally the lighter the color of the wine, the cooler the climate of the vineyard.  However, certain grape varieties are characteristically light or dark in color.


Swirl the wine in the glass to increase the surface area exposure to the air. This helps it evolve and will release the aroma or bouquet.

Place your nose deep into the glass and take a quick and strong sniff.  Remember first impressions count most.

Does it smell clean or unclean?  This can tell you if the wine is corked or not.  If corked, it will have a musty smell. Does it smell weak or pronounced? This can tell you about the wine's origin. The more intense the nose, the more likely the grapes were grown in a hot climate and the level of sugar and therefore alcohol is higher.  What does it smell of?  Fruity, Savory, Dairy, Nutty, Spicy, Mineral, Sugary, Woody, Floral, Herbal

What can the smell tell you?  Older wines tend to smell more savory and spicy and less of fruit.  Younger wines tend to smell more of fruit.  Some grape varieties have very distinctive bouquets.


Take a small mouthful of wine and swirl it around your mouth so every taste-bud gets a chance to taste it.  Professional tasters draw in air at the same time to increase the contact with air and give the wine a chance to evolve in the mouth.  Swallow it.  Unless you have a dozen wines to taste!  I actually like to chew the wine with four or five bites.

Can you taste the sweetness?  Sweetness is tasted at the tip of the tongue. It tastes sugary. It comes from the sugar in ripe grapes that is left after fermentation has finished. Is the wine dry, medium or sweet?

Can you taste the acidity?  Acidity is tasted on the sides of the tongue and tastes like lemons. It occurs naturally in grapes and is important to balance the sweetness. White wines have more acidity than red wines. Does the wine have low, medium or high levels of acidity.

Can you taste the tannin? Tannin is tasted at the back of the tongue and tastes bitter like a strong cup of tea that makes your mouth fur up. It also has the sensation of an under ripe or green banana. Tannin comes from the skins of the grapes and from oak ageing. It is mainly found in red wines.  It's easy to confuse tannin and acidity in wine but It's also easy to tell the difference if you swish the wine between your gums and teeth. Tannin tends to dry your mouth out and put a coating on your teeth, while acid will make your mouth water.

Can you feel the alcohol?  Alcohol is sensed at the back of the throat and gives a warming sensation. The higher the level of sugar in the grapes before fermentation the higher potential alcohol the wine will have, i.e.  hotter countries tend to produce wines higher in alcohol.  Are there low, medium or high levels of alcohol?  You can also see this from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass.  This is also an indication of sweetness.

What flavors can you taste? Fruity, Savory, Dairy, Nutty, Spicy, Mineral, Sugary, Woody, Floral, Herbal.  Are the flavors weak or pronounced?

How 'long' is the wine?  This is a term that describes the length of time you can taste the wine once you have swallowed or spat it out.  The length is also referred to as the "finish".  Is the finish short, medium or long?  It gives an indication of quality.  The longer the finish, the higher the quality.

What can the taste tell you?

Quality: A good sign of quality is balance. A wine is balanced when all of the wine's components (sweetness, acidity, tannins) blend together. The balance or potential to be balanced after ageing is a sign of quality.

Maturity: Older red wines tend to taste more savory and spicy. Older white wines tend to taste more honeyed and yeasty. Younger wines tend to taste more of fruit.

Origin: Hotter countries mean riper grapes and more overtly fruity wines and a higher degree of alcohol.

Grape Variety: Certain grape varieties taste of certain flavors.  Sauvignon Blanc typically tastes and smells of gooseberries, Cabernet Sauvignon of black currants.

White Meat - White Wine?  Red Meat - Red Wine?  Why?

Fish is often cooked or served with lemon.  The acidity of the lemon enhances the fish without hiding the flavor.  White wines are less powerful than red and its higher acid matches the flavors of the fish.  If you must have a red wine, drink one high in acidity and very low in tannins (Merlot, Pinot) and choose a grilled fish.

Beef is strong and full of flavor and red wines match its strength.  White wines just don't have the strength of the reds.  If you must have a white wine with red meat, drink one high in alcohol with oak undertones such as an aged Chardonnay.
One last note.  In a restaurant when the waiter pours a few drops of wine in your glass seeking your approval, he's not asking you if you like the wine.  He already knows you like it because you ordered it.  He's asking you look at it, sniff it and taste it to be sure the the wine is not oxidized, tainted or otherwise spoiled.  If, at that point, you realize you ordered the wrong wine, it's your problem, not the waiter's.  Either suffer through it or order a second bottle.  And, please don't sniff the cork.  The cork will tell you nothing but your sniff will tell the waiter you're a novice.


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