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How to taste wine like a pro

Oct 09 2019

Episode four of sipp’s Beyond The Bottle looks at how to properly taste wine: what to look for, how to train your 'wine senses' and how to consider balance and suitability. So if you want to learn how to taste wine properly, read on…


See, sniff, sipp

It sounds weird at first, but tasting wine isn’t the same as drinking it. Tasting is about paying attention to the different qualities of a wine and developing a vocabulary to define them.

Spend some time learning the lingo and developing your palate and it will help you progress on your wine journey. Whether you taste on your own or with a group of friends, keep an open mind, be consistent in your approach and don’t get put off. It gets easier with more practice, and practicing wine tasting is fun!

Watch our video guide below, or read on for the full detailed how-to-taste guide…



1.
Appearance

Looking at a wine is the least interesting part, but it's kind of important. Pour a glass, tilt it away from you and consider its appearance.

Is the wine clear and bright, or dull and hazy? A wine should be clear (unless it’s ‘natural’ and unfiltered, which is more complicated), but in most cases, if it’s cloudy, it’s probably off. The smell will confirm this.

How about the wine’s colour? Some whites are very pale, others are greenish, some golden yellow. With reds, note the colour and intensity of the colour. Tilt your glass over a white surface, can you see through or is the wine opaque? Does the colour change at the edge of the liquid?

Give the glass a swirl and look for any wine legs (aka 'tears'). They give you an indication as to the wine’s viscosity (and thus its body) and alcohol level.



2. Smell (aka Aroma or ‘Nose’)

Wine is all about the complex aromatic compounds that develop as the grapes ferment and the wine matures. These aromas make up both a wine’s ‘bouquet’, as well as much of its flavour.

So give your glass a good swirl (to release the compounds), stick your nose deep in, and sniff. IMPORTANT: if the wine smells musty, like an old garden shed or soggy cardboard, it’s corked and no good. Send or take it back.

If it's good, focus on the aromas. Does the wine smell clean, fresh and youthful, or is it more complex and subtle? Do the aromas leap out at you, or draw you in? You can tell a lot about the age and style of the wine from its aromas.

Swirl and sniff again, concentrating on the nuances. What can you smell? Open your mind and let the aromas reveal themselves. Is there fruit? What kind? Fresh, poached or candied? Flowers? Spices? Herbs? Earth? Vegetables? What else?

At first, you detect the 'primary' aromas – these are the scents from the grape/s themselves. 'Secondary' aromas comes from the winemaking practices used, such as the type of yeasts and fermentation style. Finally, 'tertiary' aromas come from the wine's maturation and ageing, all of which blend to form the wine's bouquet.

Bear in mind it’s all abstract. There's nothing but grapes, and possibly the influence of oak, in a wine. The aromas come from an interplay of chemicals that occur during fermentation and maturation. The world of aromas is super complex, so have fun tumbling down the rabbit hole of your own olfactory memory. The more you concentrate on wine's aromas, the more attuned your mind becomes to distinguishing them (and the better you become at wine tasting).


3. Taste (aka ‘The Palate’)

There’s a lot going on when you first take a sip of wine, so don’t rush it. The important thing is to ensure the wine makes contact with all the different parts of your mouth. So take a decent mouthful and swish the wine about. If you want to be a real pro, suck some air in over the wine (yes, you do have to pull *that* face and make *that* sound), which draws further aromas to your olfactory bulb.

Try to break the wine down to its different characteristics. First, think about it dryness (or sweetness). You detect sweetness on the tip of your tongue, while dryness is usually felt as a sensation at the sides of your mouth (due to tannins). Nearly all wines have some sweetness, but most wines aren’t sweet. With dry white wines, you’re essentially detecting the balance of sweetness and acidity.

Acidity is a key component of wine. You detect it on the sides of your tongue. How acidic is the wine in your glass? Does it make you wince, or your mouth water? Does it make you want to eat something? Acidity is really important for food and wine pairing. If a wine lacks acidity, it tastes soft or 'flabby’. While acidity is important in red wines, it’s vital for whites.

Then there are tannins, an important characteristic of red wines (you don’t get them in whites because they derive from the stalks, skins and pips of grapes, which aren’t used in white wine making). Tannins gives a dry sensation (think about sipping a cup of strong black tea and how its dries out your mouth – that’s tannin). While they’re not particularly nice on their own, tannins are great when pairing wine with food as they counteract fatty sensations and keep your palate fresh.

Next, think about the body of the wine, aka its texture or 'mouthfeel'. Is it rounded or thin? Does it coat your mouth or cleanse it? The weight of a wine is really important to its style, and therefore how and when you might drink it. ‘Body’ tends to relate to red wine, but the concept also applies to whites. Try to describe the feel of the wine. Is it heavy, light or medium? Reds tend to be full-bodied, medium-bodied or light, while whites range from crisp, to rounded, to buttery.

Lastly, what about the wine’s length? How long do the flavours hang around for – or do different ones arise once you’ve swallowed the wine? Do the wine's flavours linger in your mouth, or throat? Is it a luxurious finish, or a quenching, brisk one? Is the alcohol dominant and harsh, or nicely integrated? Is the wine dry and tannic, or rich and voluptuous? Or is there no discernable finish, and the wine just fades?


4. Conclusions
(aka ‘summing up’)

Once you’ve analysed a wine, it’s important to form an opinion on it. (PS: it’s ok to go back and change your opinion next time you try it – wine's good like that). But try to come to a conclusion once you’ve been through the above.

Is the wine balanced? Does the acidity marry with the detectable sweetness or richness of the wine? Are the flavours integrated, or is there way too much oak barrel influence? Is it too zesty, too flabby, too tannic? Are the flavours reserved, layered, or overly fruity? Or do you just think the wine is really nice? That's ok too.

If you like the wine, can you say why? Think about suitability. Is it a food wine, one to take to a party, or sip while watching a movie? If it'd be good with food, does it make you think of calamari or steak, roast chicken or risotto? It helps to define the wine and pin down its character. Would the wine be better colder, or warmer?

So there you go. Follow that little process of analysis and you'll be a pro in no time. This might seem a bit daunting, but learning to taste wine is a bit like learning to drive a car. Eventually you don’t think about the pedals, the gear lever or the mirrors, if just becomes second nature. Familiarise yourself with the above and soon enough you won’t have to go through it like a checklist, it’ll just become instinct to look, sniff, swish and assess about the wine’s flavours, body and style.

Any question? Find us on social media, email, or give us a call.
Happy sipping!

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