For all intents and purposes, tasting wine is easy. You just drink it, right? Well, sort of. As you’re probably aware, there is a lot that can go into tasting wine. Sommeliers can make fortunes tasting and describing wines and recommending pairings to restaurant-goers. There are also many books written on the subject. While we can’t promise you’ll get to that level with this tutorial, you can begin to develop the skills needed to taste wine like a pro.
If you’re looking for wine and want to stay home either due to the current state of things or you’re in the future and simply don’t want to go out, give King Keg a call or check out our website. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are offering free contactless deliveries, and once the situation resolves, we will continue to deliver kegs, wine, spirits, and more across the South Bay. So without further ado, here is how to wine taste for beginners.
To begin, the most important thing you can do is relax, especially if you’re in a group. Nobody is going to judge you if you say something wrong or ask a basic question. If you’re trying this at home, make sure there are no harsh odors around you. Snuff out your scented candles and smell your wine glass to test for odors in case your dish soap left some residue.
The first thing you should do when wine tasting is look at it. Not all wines are going to look equal and there are some insights we can pull from how a wine looks, such as clarity, color, and viscosity.
Clarity of the Wine
Is the wine you’re drinking cloudy or clear? If it's clear, chances are it has been filtered. Although not a hard rule, if filtered, then the wine is usually from one of the United States regions of wines. Filtration is obviously a choice of the vintner though, so always keep that in mind.
For our purposes as beginners, the color of the wine is a good indicator of what kind of wine it is - think white, red, or rosé. As you become more experienced in tasting and looking at wines, you’ll learn that even more can be pulled from the color. Age and condition, for instance, can be seen in the color of the wine and even the country of origin and specific varietal. There is a wide array of “industry” terms to use when describing the color of wine, but for now, just go with what your heart says!
If you’ve ever seen someone swirl the wine in their wine glass and wondered what they’re doing, it’s also a part of wine tasting! They’re looking at the viscosity of the wine and it is the beginning of developing how you think about its flavor. Swirling a glass of wine shows the “legs” of the wine, if it has any. Legs are a way of describing the slow-moving tier-like droplets that form after spinning a wine glass. In general, this will show you if the wine is going to have a higher residual sugar content and can also indicate a higher alcohol content. On the other hand, a wine with fewer legs, or “sheets,” will generally come from a cooler climate. More importantly, though, it opens the wine up for the next step
You’re almost there! Giving your wine a swirl not only helps with viewing the viscosity of wine, but you’re also opening the wine up and allowing some of its fragrance. The scent of a wine can give you even more indicators before you’ve tasted it too. When you’re smelling a wine, we should keep a lookout for the following.
This might be obvious, but if your wine doesn’t smell like wine, there could be a problem. The first indication your wine may have gone bad or is flawed in some way is the smell. This is most common in wines that have been left to age improperly and have spoiled.
Intensity is how prominent the aromatics of the wine are. Are you getting a punch of pepper in the face, or do you smell light sweet fruits or a hint of rose petals? These fragrance notes can all vary depending on the varietal of wine and how the winemaker decided to ferment their grapes.
The last aspect of smelling the wine is its character. Typically, there will be a prominent overtone of a specific family of scents. These are often described as a “fruit-forward” wine or an “earthy” wine. Fruit-forward wines will have sweeter or fruitier aromas, while earthier wines will have notes of wood, tobacco, pepper, or even wet dirt. Take note of these characteristics as it will help you describe the flavors you’re experiencing moving forward.
You’ve finally made it, you can now taste your wine! This is, by far, the best and, for some, the hardest part of the process. When tasting a wine, you will want to envelop your entire mouth with the wine to cover all your tastebuds. While you’re tasting, think of the flavors it reminds you of and look back at the sight and scent notes you previously made in the tasting. Here are some of the most common aspects of taste you can use to describe your wine tasting experience.
- Sweetness: Is it dry or sweet?
- Acidity: Is it high or low in acidity?
- Tannins: High-tannin taste is dry and astringent and feels most prominent on your tongue and cheeks.
- Alcohol: Does it taste like there is a high alcohol content? If so, what could that mean?
- Body: How does the wine feel on your tongue? is it light like 2% milk or heavier (full bodies) like whole milk? The body of the wine can be related to oak aging, as well as alcohol content.
- Flavors: What do you taste? Is it fruity? What kind of fruits do you taste?
The most important thing you can do while tasting wine is have fun. Whether you’re at home or at the winery with the vintner themself, if you’re not a professional sommelier or critic, wine tasting should be for pure joy. If you’re looking to try your hand at tasting during safer-at-home orders, visit our wine section and pick a few that look interesting to you. Give these tasting instructions a try and receiving your delivery and see how you do. If you like the process of wine tasting, plan a future trip to wine country or share your experience with your friends. Either way, we hope you enjoy your new skill!