Some time ago I was with a friend when she noticed an outdoor restaurant patio filled with people lunching and drinking wine. She said, “See those people over there? I want to do that!” I asked her why she hadn’t and she said wine was too intimidating. I’m here to tell you that life is too short to not sit and enjoy good wine. So where do we start? How do I know what I’ll like? There’s only one way to find out: start tasting wine!
So you’ve taken the leap and ordered a glass of wine or purchased a bottle to taste at home. Here are some steps that will help you evaluate it.
See: Take a look at the wine. Angle it in the glass. What color is it? Whites can be very pale, soft yellow, to gold. Reds can look anywhere from brick, red, to deep purple. The variety of grape used to make the wine determines its color. Do you notice anything else? Is the color clear all the way around the rim? Is it cloudy? Does it contain sediment? These qualities give us clues to the wine’s variety, how it was made, and it’s age.
Swirl: So why do we swirl the wine other than because it’s fun? It helps aerate the wine and releases its aroma. Don’t fill your glass all the way up to the top. Other than looking like a noob, you won’t have room to gently swirl. When you swirl your wine you will notice clear “legs” dripping down inside the glass. The more legs you see the higher the alcohol content.
Smell: Hold your glass just under your nose and take a small whiff. Then swirl your glass again to let more oxygen aerate the wine. This time take a longer, deeper sniff. I know, I know, this sounds nuts! But your sense of smell plays a huge part in your enjoyment of wine. The more you do this the better you will get at determining what it smells like. I met a guy at a wine shop once who said that you should practice by opening every jar in your refrigerator to learn how different things smell. This helps you identify what you are smelling. I’m to the point now where I can tell if I’m going to like a wine or not based on the smell, so I know it works. You’ve seen movies or heard wine snobs say things like, “I’m getting tennis balls, wet dog, grass.” I don’t take it that far, but I do try to determine if the wine smells earthy, fruity, spicy, nutty, mineral, chocolaty, floral, peppery, etc.
Sip: FINALLY! Yes, take a sip. With this first sip swish it around in your mouth. This coats your mouth and prepares your palate. Take another sip and let it linger in your mouth for a few seconds. Finally, swallow it. What do you taste? There’s actually a lot going on in your mouth. Much like in the smelling step, try to describe what you’re tasting. Is it earthy, fruity, spicy, nutty, mineral, chocolaty, floral, peppery, etc. Is it sweet, bold, big, crisp, tart, thin, young? Sweetness hits the front of your palate. Is your mouth watering? That’s the acidity. That dried out mouth feeling is the tannins. They give the wine its structure. And finally, when the wine hits the back of your throat you may feel heat. That’s the alcohol. Always take notes when you’re tasting wine so you can define it’s traits and determine whether or not you’d buy it again.
Savor: This is the best part of wine. It is to be enjoyed. My husband and I try to pour a glass of wine and let it sit on the counter for an hour because it oxygenates the wine, releasing the flavors. Of course, what usually ends of happening is what my husband calls “Cooking Wine” – wine that you sip while you’re cooking. 😜 As you taste more and more wine you will begin to learn what you like.
Spit: This step is optional (I never do it!) and usually occurs in a tasting room. After you’ve seen, swirled, smelled, and sipped you can opt to spit it out. WHY?? Because you may be going to several wineries that day or you’re driving. Safety first! Those buckets you see on the counter at tasting rooms are for pouring out wines that are not to your liking, and also for spitting. Contrary to what you might think, it is perfectly acceptable to spit out wine into the bucket.
Next time you taste wine try to be more mindful of the above steps. I think it will add to the enjoyment of drinking wine immensely. Cheers! 🍷