There are 4-5 major steps in how to taste wine. These can be known as the 5S’s:
Sight: Hold the wine in the glass against a white background. Look for clarity, and see if the color of the wine is characteristic of the grape.
Swirl: This helps to release the aroma of the wine, giving breath to the grapes, soil, and wine production methods.
Smell: See what you can smell in the wine. Is it just berry? Or is it raspberry or blueberry. Is it spice? Or is it cinnamon and nutmeg? Try to find as many different unique smells in the wine as possible to see it’s true character!
Sip: Yes, it’s exciting to taste the wine, but resist the urge to gulp! The first sip of wine in a tasting session is going to wake up your taste buds, swish the wine around and hold it for a few seconds before you take another sip.
On the second sip, hold the wine on your tongue and swish it around your mouth. See what you can taste, is there minerality and earthiness? Perhaps some smoke and toast from the wood? What about fruit? Fresh fruit, or perhaps preserves like raspberry jam? There’s a whole realm of flavors out there, see how many you can find in the wine.
Think about textures: Does the wine feel rich and thick in your mouth? Almost heavy? Perhaps it’s thin and watery, or maybe in the middle. Sometimes this is caused by the alcohol content in the wine, higher alcohol tends to mean heavier body, but sugar can also produce a similar result.
Finally, with reds, you might notice a mouth drying sensation. This is a result of tannins. Tannins can be mild or can feel like velvet wrapped around your tongue. All reds are different, and some people are very sensitive to them, but try to keep them in mind, they can be very useful in pairing with food.
Savor: Does the wine have a pleasant after taste? Does it linger or does it dissipate quickly? Are there any clear flavors left over?
Finally, when thinking about how to taste wine, you’ll want to consider an Aroma Wheel. These handy tools can help expand your vocabulary and think outside the box for flavors. This one by the American Wine Society is one of my stand-bys and this one by Madeline at Wine Folly is another great choice!
Got questions about how to taste wine? Let us know in the comments!