Wine tasting should not intimidate you. When venturing into the concept of tasting, you have to understand that wine tasting is much different from drinking a glass of wine for enjoyment. Tasting wine is about developing your palate and learning to identify the different characteristics of wine. Wine tasting is an art, and it requires the following steps for a good analysis:

  • Opening and pouring the wine to view its legs, viscosity...
  • Looking deep into the wine to observe its color
  • Sniffing the wine for any aromas you recognize
  • Swirling the wine and sniffing it for different aromas
  • Taking a slurp and sloshing it around in your mouth. As you slurp and slosh, taste the flavors of the wine and make notes about how the wine feels on your tongue and mouth; this is called it's mouthfeel.

Describe The Wine

What you smell and taste when tasting wine is a personal analysis; there are no right or wrong descriptive tastes. In the wine industry, there's a term for descriptive terms used to identify key characteristics of wine; these are called descriptors, and a plethora exist, as taste is subjective and is influenced by many variables.

Grape varietals have established flavor profiles, and you will be able to identify a Merlot from a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay from a Pinot Grigio over time. Continuing to taste and evaluate wines is the best way to identify key aspects of wine that make them familiar; for example, Pinot Noir wines are usually very smooth and drinkable. Over time, you'll know the difference between blindly tasting a Pinot and tasting a big Cabernet. Common descriptors of wine include:

The Variables of Wine Tasting and Flavor Profiles

Variables that contribute to the perceived flavor profile of wine include the integration of food. A wine will taste different when paired with a meal compared to how it tastes if drunk alone, this is because depending on the characteristics of the meal, the wine lends flavor binding and vice versa. For example, a crisp wine will cut the greasy flavor of fatty foods, making the wine taste more apple-like in the case of white wine because it has a brighter profile compared to the dish. Make notes about food and wine pairings. This will help you understand the dynamics of the chosen wine and help you build pairings in the future for entertaining. Be sure to always taste a wine with food and without food to better get a grasp on the true flavor of wine.

When you taste wine, do so in a quiet, comfortable space. Make sure your area is free from smoke or strong odors that will interfere with your ability smell the wine, as a major part of wine tasting occurs with the intake of its aroma and bouquet. (Read on in "Wine Tasting - Nose, Aroma or Bouquet.")

Every time you taste wine, look, sniff, slurp and make notes about each step by asking some questions:

What Color is Your Wine?

When you look at the wine, what color is it? For red wines, is is dark, brownish or bright red? For white wines, is it yellow, greenish or pale? The color of a wine is sometimes indicative of a wine's character; for example, a brownish wine may be oxidized and flawed, or, in the case of Sherry or Shiraz, is just fine. Usually, darker red wines will be full-bodied, and brownish wines are old and past their prime. Pinot Noir wines tend to take on an orange tinge earlier than most other red wines. In the case of white wines, a pale wine is very light-bodied while a greenish wine will usually be crisp. A yellowish tinge will be medium-bodied, however, a gold-toned wine is usually an old wine, past its prime, as very few white wines are made to be aged - wines that come close to a gold color include Chardonnay and some oaked white wines.

What Do You Smell in Your Wine?

When you sniff, what aromas do you identify? Is it floral or fruity? The aromas and bouquets of a wine can tell you a lot about how it was made, including information about where it was grown. Things like terroir carry into the wine grape varieties, lending flavor and scent profiles to the finished wines. Jot these characteristics down in your wine journal. (Read on in "How Do All Those Flavors and Aromas Get Into Wine.")

What Do You Taste in Your Wine?

When you slurp, what’s going on in your mouth, and what does the wine it taste like? Does it leave your mouth feeling dry? This is indicative of a wine with a lot of tannin, a compound present in the wine grape variety before it even begins he vinification process. A wine that possess this strong character is Cabernet Sauvignon. Other notes you should take included whether the wine feels heavy in your mouth or if its viscosity is light, like water. Does the wine have a long or short finish?

Over time this pattern will become habitual, and it will become easier to take notes and make paring decisions on-the-spot by just looking, smelling or giving the wine a small taste.

Must-Do List When Taste Wine

Tasting wines is an art, as we mentioned. You'll need to equip yourself with the tools needed to succeed in identifying and remembering flavor profiles, compound characteristics and much more; you can only do this by doing the following:

Keep a Wine Notebook

Before you taste wine, get yourself a wine tasting notebook. You’ll want to make notes every time you taste wine. Make notes about which wine you are drinking, the vintage and what you were able to identify. Keeping track of the wines you’ve tasted will help you to remember, and as you taste more wine and develop your palate, you’ll be able to see how much you learn.

Read the Label

Read the label on the bottle of wine you are drinking; there will be a description of the flavors of the wine on the back side. And the front side will give you information regarding a wine's origin and its regulatory distinctions, like whether a wine from Italy is a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) or Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) wine. Think about those flavor profiles as you sniff and slurp to see if you can smell them and taste them. If the label says the wine tastes like berries and herbs, try to figure out if you smell and taste berries and herbs.

Use the Right Glass

Using the right glass will help the wine to breathe properly and allow all the flavors of the wine to fully develop. (Learn more in "A Guide to Wine Glasses.")

Taste the Wine at the Right Temperature

Different types of wines should be served at different temperatures. For example, many red wines are meant to be served at room temperature or between 65 and 70 degrees. White wines, on the other hand, are meant to be chilled before serving. Make sure the wine you are tasting is at the right temperature.

Look at the Wine

When the wine is in the glass, look at it from different angles, swirl it gently and tilt the glass to fully inspect the wine, make notes about what you see. Note the color of the wine and how the legs move on the surface of the glass

Sniff the Wine

When you sniff the wine you don’t have to stick your nose right into the glass, just place the glass a few inches from your face, close your eyes and take a deep breath in. What do you smell? Do any images come into your head, like fields of flowers, images of rocks or dirt? Make notes about all of those thoughts and aromas.

Slurp and Slosh the Wine

Imagine the wine is hot; as you put the glass up to your mouth, breathe in and slurp the wine into your mouth. It should sound bubbly and loud. Keep slurping and let the wine roll over your tongue into your mouth, then you will want to slosh it around, kind of like mouthwash. This is one of the most important steps of tasting wine. Sloshing and slurping helps the wine reach every angle of taste buds in your mouth, allowing you to fully taste the components of your wine.

You’ll experience a wide range of flavors including: floral, earthy, fruity and other flavors. If you’ve really spent your time well when you were sniffing, the flavors will be easy to taste. Not only will you be identifying flavor profiles, you will also be using your taste buds to taste and evaluate the wine. Is the wine harmonious, balanced or complex? When you taste a harmonious wine, the flavors complement each other; a balanced wine has flavors that are equal, and a complex wine may have multiple layers of flavors.

How are your taste buds responding? Your taste buds can taste sweet, salty, sour and bitter. You will rarely taste salt in wine, but the other tastes can be very active. Think about how your tongue and mouth feel - are you salivating, which part of your tongue is tingling? When noting your experience in your notebook, knowing these descriptive terms can make it easier to describe your wine as:

After you’ve tasted the wine, you can either swallow it (if drinking the bottle for enjoyment) or spit it out if you are going to be tasting multiple wines.

As you develop your wine tasting ability, remember to have fun. Wines tell a story of how and where the grapes were grown, made into wine and aged. Learning to develop your palate and an appreciation for the aromas and tastes of wine is a taste journey that you can share with others like yourself who love to drink wine.