Walking into a wine tasting room can be fun and educational. For many, it is an opportunity to taste new and interesting wines while enjoying quality time with friends. For others, the purpose may be to become better educated on wine and expand their palate. Whatever your purpose for entering the tasting room, there are a few constants – there will be staff behind the bar ready to pour and many different wines to choose from. For a new taster, the variety of wine options may be overwhelming, but just know that after finally making a selection comes the big question – how exactly does someone new to wine taste like a pro?
Here are some simple steps to help you evaluate wine like a pro:
Hold the glass by the stem and tilt it to the side holding it over something white – evaluate the color of the wine. White wine can range in color – light straw/gold tones can reflect oak aging while browner tones can indicate oxidation and/or age. Red wines, while young, will appear ruby/purple, and when aged, can appear brick red/brownish. As a general rule, as wine ages its color will move to brown tones. Also evaluate the clarity – is the wine clear without anything murky or cloudy or are there visible particles suspended in the wine? This will indicate whether or not the wine has been filtered.
Next, sniff your wine before you swirl it! We do this because there can be a noticeable difference in the smell of the wine pre and post-swirl. After that initial sniff, go ahead and swirl the glass, adding oxygen to the wine and opening up some of the aromatics. This time when you sniff, notice the differences between this and the first time. Also – try angling the glass so only one side of your nose is in the glass and then switch to the other side – this can help you identify if you have one side of your nose that is more dominant than the other. Try to identify some of the scents; spicy, floral, fruity, vegetative, herbal etc.
Taste the wine! This last part is a two-step process; your first sip of the day will be to cleanse your palate, to wash away the day’s food and drink. The next sip will be the sip you use to evaluate the wine. Roll the wine around your mouth and tongue. The front of your tongue will pick up sweetness, the sides will pick up salt and acidity, while the back will pick up bitterness. If you can (without choking!), after swallowing, try to breathe out through your nose to get some of the subtle flavors and aromas of the wine. By doing this, you can evaluate the finish – or how long the wine lingers and changes on your palate. This can range from short to long (10 seconds to 60+).
Now you can taste wine like a pro. Or at least well on your way! One thing that can be helpful is talking to the staff about their knowledge of the wine you’re drinking and what their favorites are and why. The staff can be a huge help and really aid in your understanding. Hopefully, these few pointers will take some of the mystery out of wine tasting!