How to Taste Wine Like an Expert


June 13, 2012 Blog » Wine Tips & Tricks » How to Taste Wine Like an Expert
John C. Reilly is the Doctor of Tasting Wine

the doctor of wine tasting.

Want to learn how to taste wine?

Tasting wine is arguably the single most important part of enjoying wine. Unfortunately, over time ‘proper tasting’ has become a trademark for holier than thou snobbery that runs rampant within wine culture. There is an intimidating expectation that there is a right way to taste wine, which usually includes unnecessary showmanship and vernacular. This guide focuses on practical techniques guaranteed to make you an awesome wine taster.


That is clearly how it’s done.
 
Be Experimental

Ever try a St. Laurent or a Zweigelt? You will discover how these lesser known varietals taste very similar to pinot noir.

Wine Tasting

You already have a lot of clues about a wine including its varietal, vintage and producer. These clues will all help give you an expectation for what a wine should taste like. Certain fruit flavors are more common or even exclusive to certain wine varietals. The more you pay attention to each flavor the more refined your taste becomes. Identifying how a range of different wines taste comes with practice and experimentation. Tasting wine builds a catalog of images, smells, and flavors.

Where has your mouth been? If you just finished choking down a Big Mac and a half carton of cigarettes you’re going to have a bad time tasting wine. Make sure your mouth is clean and that you’re well hydrated. Don’t brush your teeth immediately before wine tasting, not only will it be harder to taste wine it might actually increase the chances of staining your teeth.
 

5 Steps in Tasting Wine

  1. Look
  2. Smell
  3. Taste
  4. Swallow/Spit
  5. Think

How to Taste Wine Step by Step

Look: Use this step to get in the mindset of tasting. Look at the shade of color and opacity. How does it compare to other wines of the same varietal? Is it darker? More intense? Harder to see through? Take a mental snapshot for later, these hints will show how bold, rich and viscous the wine is. Here are two charts that can help you develop a baseline: Red Wine Colors & White Wine Colors

Smell: Time to pay attention. Identifying smells beforehand makes tasting flavors in wine easier. Start by swirling the glass to aerate the wine and release its aromas. To swirl a glass, place it flat on a table and move your hand as though you are drawing tiny circles with the base. Now stick your nose in there and take a big sniff. What do you smell? Refer to Red & Dark Fruit Flavors in Wine to get ideas.

Taste: Who doesn’t love this step? Take a mouthwash size sip and briefly swish it around your mouth to make sure it coats your entire tongue before you swallow. Think about the flavors, textures and body of the wine. Is it sharp? Does it make your tongue feel dry? Do the flavors match the smells from earlier? Can you name a fruit, mineral or spice? Does it have an alcohol burn? Revisit smelling the wine after your first sip to help formulate any conclusions (guesses are ok too!).

Swallow/Spit: Oh my. Have you ever rationalized swallowing because you’d hate to waste wine? There are some good reasons to spit. Maybe the wine doesn’t suit your taste or you want to save yourself for better wine. Maybe you need to drive. Or better yet, maybe you want to be sober enough to actually taste all the wines at a tasting. As long as you’re safe, we won’t judge you either way. If you’re tasting 20 wines in a day you might want to learn how to spit.

Think: Too many guides focus on the superficial nuances of wine tasting. Wine tasting is a head game. Confidence and bold assertion can often make someone look like a pro who actually knows nothing. Don’t be afraid to pipe up and offer your suggestions! There are no wrong answers.. Although, if every wine smells like burnt toast you might want to see a doctor.
 

Video on How to Taste Wine


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Tips, Tricks, and Pitfalls

2 by 2: When smelling wine, challenge yourself to identify two fruits and two other aromas before moving on to taste.

Wine Glasses: It’s easier when you have the right tool for the job. The round bowl shape of a wine glass is convenient for swirling, provides lots of room to hold aromas, and has an opening big enough to stick your nose in.

Holding the Glass: You can hold the glass however you want! Some people argue that you should only hold the glass by the stem otherwise you’ll heat up the wine. In this case, we recommend you definitely hold the glass at the top of the bowl. Then kindly ask them to adjust the ambient temperature to the ideal serving temperature for red wine, ~60 degrees.. Haters are going to hate.

Cup of Water: Drink one cup of water to every glass of wine. Staying hydrated keeps your tongue working.

Food Pairing: Before you write off a wine as bad, try it with food. Some wines excel at complimenting food rather than standing on their own. Here is a guide on basic wine and food pairing.

Legs: They don’t matter! Let’s be real for a second, if you can consistently read wine legs you’re probably a wine professional. (Why are you reading this?) Most people get tripped up on wine legs. It’s a rhetoric for the wannabe wine critic to regurgitate so they can look self-important; odds are they have no idea what they are talking about. Don’t fall victim to this temptation as there are more important things to focus on when tasting wine.
 

How to Upstage Snobbery

Did you have fun learning how to taste wine? Check out some of our other articles below!
Read How to Upstage a Wine Snob for your next battle of social wit.

List of wine descriptors and what they really mean.


Hey, I want to show you how to be an awesome wine taster and learn how to taste wine. You get some wine in your glass and you pay attention to what is going into your mouth, and that’s pretty much all you have to do. It’s easy to see a hot dog and taste a hot dog and be like ‘i just put a hot dog in my mouth’. When you taste wine, you’re trying to develop the same kind of experience. This is not a hot dog, this is a glass of primitivo, but here I am trying to develop a system of memories and queues to tell me what I just put in my mouth. Here I am, looking at wine, this is a red wine, in fact, this is a bottle of D’Cubed Primitivo that they sent me. Never tried it before. So I’m looking at this wine, I’m swirling it in my glass. It looks like Primitivo, you know, I might know what Primitivo looks like and you might not. So maybe you notice something about, you know, I can see my fingers through this glass, holy crap, there they are. Alright, so now I’ve swirled it a bit, and my glass looks totally wet with wine. Because I’m swirling it, all this flavor is flying out of the glass, I can smell it for sure. There is definitely wine in this glass. This is not colored water.. You don’t know for sure, this could be colored water! Nope, it’s definitely wine. It smells like strawberries. Well does it smell like strawberries? Maybe it smells more like ‘wine’ to you. Maybe all you’re smelling is ‘red wine’. So, how do you get from red wine to strawberries? Well, that means getting past the red wine smell. Sometimes you’ll stick your nose in the glass for awhile and you’ll think to yourself ‘what the hell am I smelling?’. What’s in this glass? Is it only red wine in there? Or am I going to disassociate and embrace anything it could be? I like to close my eyes a lot when I try wine. I smell strawberry pie, oh, you know what else I smell? Those red velvet cupcakes. So I’m starting to smell and I’m developing a picture of what I’m smelling. Then I’m picking a couple of things that it reminds me of. Next thing I’m going to do, now that my mouth is watering and I’m practically drooling. I’m going to taste it. I don’t know what you like to do, but I like to get that wine in there, all over my mouth. All those little taste buds have to try it. I used to just make a funnel with my mouth and send it right to the back of my throat. Turns out that’s fine for a $5 bottle of wine, but when you get up there, you kinda miss out on a lot of the experience. Especially if you’re spending good money. I mean gosh, that’s like funneling down dollars. Those wines that are really expensive, $80 a bottle, what is that, $20 a glass? Then you take one sip and you think, gosh, I just swallowed back $5. Holy crap. Let’s not talk about money. I smelled strawberry pie and red velvet cake, and then I tasted it and started thinking about how it tasted a little different than how it smelled. I started developing all these ideas that I wrap into a present in the shape of “primitivo”. Now I know what primitivo tastes like. Now I know what D’Cubed primitivo tastes like. And I wrap this whole amazing series of concepts and experiences, the color, the way it looked in my hand, the fact I can see my hands through it, how it smelled like red velvet cake, and how when I tasted it, the alcohol hit the back of my throat and I could feel it and I could feel all the flavors all over my mouth. That’s what primitivo tastes like. Now the whole reason people become super awesome at tasting wine and they can say ‘oh, well that must be a 97′ cabernet from Napa’. That’s because they’ve had a 97 cabernet from Napa and they know what it tastes like! You’re building a palace of all these wines you’ve tasted. And that’s why I think a lot of people like to try different wines, because they want to add another notch to their belt, another wine to put into their series of wines they’ve tasted. Well, so now we’ve tried primitivo, or at least I have. So you want to taste some wines but you don’t really know where to get started, I totally recommend joining Wine Folly courses, because we’re actually going to be sending you bottles of wine in the mail pre-selected, nay, hand-selected by yours truly. We’ll taste those wines, and learn why they taste the way they do.

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By Justin Hammack
When I'm not drinking wine, I'm also.. a rails developer, vegetarian foodie, coffee addict, casual gamer, lover of cult movies, driver of insane turbo-2.0L ... in Seattle.