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How to Taste Wine Like an Expert

- Updated

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.

John C. Reilly is the Doctor of Tasting Wine
The doctor of wine tasting.

This guide focuses on practical techniques guaranteed to make you an awesome wine taster.

Want to learn how to taste wine?

That is clearly how it’s done.

Wine Tasting

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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.

Steps of Wine Tasting

  1. Look
  2. Smell
  3. Taste
  4. Swallow/Spit
  5. Think (you should probably do this throughout)

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.

Lets get into this!

Video on How to Taste Wine

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.

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AboutJustin 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.

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