Wine Tasting For Beginners
Any wine lover will tell you that enjoying a glass of red or white is much more than just “having a drink”; it’s an experience. And it’s an experience that is taken up to the next level if you know how to properly taste wine.
You may have seen sommeliers swilling their glasses and pensively smelling their wine and thought it looked a bit overwhelming (or even pompous), but it’s not. Wine tasting isn’t something just for the pros; as you’ll see from our simple tips, anyone who’s interested can get into it.
It means you’ll be able to better appreciate and savour the value of a good drop, and understand the more subtle notes of a wine beyond “uhh, it tastes… grapey?” And, let’s face it, it’s not a bad skill to be able to whip out at dinner parties.
So without further ado, here are the three steps to mastering wine tasting.
Before you dive right in, have a quick look at the appearance of the wine. You don’t have to expend a huge amount of effort or time into thoroughly examining the liquid in front of you (so put away that microscope).
Instead, this step is just about quickly establishing a foundational relationship with the wine you’re about to taste. Note the colour, how hazy it is, the opacity… at first this might not mean much to you but as you practise and taste more wines you’ll start to spot the differences.
Your nose plays a huge factor in tasting anything, and smelling wine before you sample it is a great way to initially engage that sense. It’s like anticipating what you’re about to experience, plus it helps you practise picking out some of the notes and aromatic characteristics of the wine.
This is also where you get to do your swirling. Swirling isn’t something that experts do just to look cool; it essentially releases more aroma compounds into the air, meaning you can draw in a more complex smell. A great way to initially practise this method is to put the wine glass on a table or sturdy flat surface and move the base of the glass in circular, gently fluid movements.
And, finally, we get to the taste. This is probably the more complex part, but it’s a lot simpler when you break it all down.
Firstly, wines have a ‘profile’ that changes over the time you keep it in your mouth. There is a beginning taste, a middle (mid-palate), and an end (finish). With practise, this will become more notable to you.
There’s also various things that you can look for in the structure of the wine. Some of the easier notes to pick out when you’re just getting started are the sweetness, acidity, and tannin. The first two are pretty self-explanatory, while tannins might be a bit more foreign to you. Basically, when you swirl a red wine around your mouth, does it leave your gums and tongue feeling dry? That’s tannin!
Then of course there are the actual flavours. Wine can display characteristics of anything from sweet berries to citrusy lemons. Practise trying to pick out one or two of these flavours in every mouthful; with applied attention to detail it will become easier than you think!
Then it’s all just down to comparison. How does Pinot Noir taste compared to Shiraz? Or how does one Chardonnay from a different vineyard or year compare to another? What stands out about Merlot amongst its red counterparts? They may all seem to meld into one now, but the more you taste and compare, the more distinctly they’ll stand out from one another.
The old homage of practise making perfect really stands true when it comes to wine tasting. But unlike those piano lessons your parents forced you into when you were 8, this particular skill is a lot more fun to practise.
Drink responsibly and have fun!