So, you’ve decided to broaden your wine palate. Congratulations! If you’re wondering where exactly to start, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn how to master the art of wine tasting.
We’ve all seen wine tasting before. Someone holds their glass up to the light and peers deeply into their wine. Then they delicately hold it up to their noses to decipher its aroma before taking the tiniest of sips. Maybe they swish it around before swallowing (or spitting 😲) and then they somehow explain all the subtle nuances of the wines taste, aroma, and sometimes even the terroir. This, my friends, is wine tasting.
Before you roll your eyes too hard, we’re here to clear the air around this often misunderstood practice. You don’t have to be a master sommelier to be good at or even just enjoy wine tasting. Technically, any time you’ve enjoyed wine and noticed a particular aroma or flavor, you’ve dipped your toes into wine tasting.
So, today we’re setting the record straight. We’ll be talking about what exactly wine tasting IS, wine tasting etiquette, and the four main components of wine tasting. Basically, we want to help you develop different techniques for enjoying wine and developing your palate. Bonus, it means you have an excuse to drink wine. Win!
Need to brush up on your Wine Terminology? Click here to use our glossary!
What is Wine Tasting?
Wine tasting is simply the practice of assessing wine. Oftentimes, this is done in a formal setting where several wines are assessed. If you’re a sommelier (certified wine professional), you’re expected to be able to gain a great deal of insight into a bottle of wine by this assessment.
If the thought of practicing your wine tasting skills in a professional setting is a bit intimidating, fear not. It’s also pretty common to enjoy a new bottle of wine with a more intimate group of friends and family. This gives you an opportunity to both socialize and discuss the different qualities of one wine with a close group of people.
Wine tastings are also helpful if you’re trying to determine the perfect wine pairing for a particular meal. Some people prefer to start with the food and then select the wine, while others start with the wine and design their meal around those aromas and flavors. Either way, taking time to assess your wine on its own will help you decide whether or not it will make a good pairing.
As you practice your wine tasting skills, you’ll gain more experience and confidence. You might start to notice particular features you enjoy more than others. Conversely, you may start to enjoy certain qualities you previously found undesirable. As you gain more experience, you’ll even be able to pick out additives like Mega Purple (which you won’t EVER find in our wine).
Anyone with a good sense of smell and taste can participate in a wine tasting. Plus, even if you’re not trying to become a professional, wine tastings are fun!
Wine Tasting Etiquette
There’s a big difference in wine tasting etiquette when it comes to formal settings compared to more relaxed settings. Plus, with more and more vineyards hosting wine tasting events, the dos and don’ts are getting more and more complicated. To keep you from making any wine tasting faux pas, make sure you consider the following items.
Don’t wear perfume or cologne.
This one may seem strange at first, but it’s actually pretty important. To really experience a wine, your sense of taste and smell need to be clear. So, any other scents or aromas wafting about might be pretty distracting. This is probably more important at formal events than smaller intimate ones, but it won’t hurt to avoid that spritz of perfume or cologne for one evening.
With multiple wines, you might want to “expectorate” or practice moderation.
While taking the girls to a vineyard for a boozy weekend getaway may seem like a fun idea, things can quickly go south when you’ve all had a bit too much to drink. Not only is that not good for you, when you’ve had too much alcohol it makes it harder to really experience the wine and notice its subtleties.
The first option to avoid this is to just drink in moderation. If you’re sampling multiple wines, let whoever is pouring it know that you only need a small amount. Some locations will even request that you “expectorate” or spit out your wine sample when you’re finished. Not every event or location will have the same policies though, that’s why it’s always important to ask beforehand.
If you’re attending someone else’s event, ask what their policies are!
Whether you’re attending a formal wine tasting at a vineyard or a private wine tasting at a friends house, ask them what sorts of etiquette they prefer. Some people prefer that you “expectorate” into a small personal cup, while others may have a communal receptacle. Some events don’t want you to spit at all!
Plus, if you’re attending a formal event at a winery, there are even more items to consider (see below).
If you’re hosting, make your desired etiquette known.
Perhaps you’ll only have one type of wine and you hope your guests will drink it and sample a variety of finger foods you’ve provided. Maybe you’ll have several different wines to choose from so you hope your guests won’t be pouring liberally. Whatever your preferences are, let your guests know!
Some people will be brave enough to ask, but not everyone. So whether you just verbally explain it, include it in the invitation, or have a stylish placard strategically placed somewhere, make sure your guests understand your expectations.
Special notes for Tasting Rooms.
If you’ve been invited into a private tasting room at a winery, be sure to follow these tips to ensure you get invited again!
- Be open-minded and willing to try wines you otherwise wouldn’t.
- Don’t drink so much that you become overly inebriated.
- Don’t “ask for the good stuff.” However, you can inquire if there are any reserve wines available beyond their usual offerings. Be aware that if you ask for this type of special treatment, it’s polite to make a purchase.
- Don’t ask for a second sample of a certain wine unless you’re considering a purchase.
- DO make a purchase, but DON’T haggle over the price. This is their art, and they deserve to be paid for their work.
- While a tasting room is definitely not a bar, if you see signs encouraging patrons to tip their servers then you definitely should.
Now for the fun stuff! You’ve mastered the etiquette and the glass of wine is before you. So….what now? Keep reading for the specifics on how to actually participate in a wine tasting!
Examine How the Wine Looks
While it may seem silly at first, you can actually determine quite a lot about a wine by the way it looks. In neutral lighting notice the color, how opaque the wine is, and its viscosity.
Both the color and opacity can help you determine its age, the particular grape variety, and sometimes even if the grapes were grown in warm or cool climates.
Also known as “wine legs,” viscosity can tell you if the wine has a lot of sugar and whether or not it has a high alcohol content. Wines with higher alcohol collect more droplets on the sides of the glass compared to low alcohol wines, and sweeter wines will have legs that flow more slowly.
Luckily, if you don’t have an eye for that sort of thing, you can usually determine the alcohol content by looking at the bottle.
Notice How Wine Smells
The aroma of wine is equally as important as the way it tastes. If you’re a wine novice, give yourself time to develop this skill. At first, you may only notice broad scents like “fruity” or “herbal.” That’s totally fine! Trying to pick out individual fruit aromas can be tricky and takes time.
|Pro Tip: Lightly swirl the wine to help release and express any aromatic compounds. Alternate between long inhales and shorter sniffs to really pick apart the aroma.|
First, notice any primary aromas. This may just mean determining whether the wine is more fruity, herbal, spicy, or floral. Then try to develop your sense of smell further to detect secondary aromas that come from specific fermentation methods (you’ll notice these more prominently in white wines). Lastly, notice any tertiary aromas. These develop from different aging practices and are most often savory (tobacco, leather, cedar, vanilla, etc.).
Finally, TASTE the Wine!
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for! While it’s often the most enjoyable step, it’s also the most complex. You’ll want to pay attention to the aromas and flavors while the wine is in your mouth and after swallowing (or spitting). That’s because the aromas may change due to the way your nose is picking up on the scent. Honestly, it’s pretty interesting!
|Pro Tip: You can alternate between larger sips of wine and smaller sips. This helps you isolate specific flavors and textures one at a time.|
Here are a few items to pay special attention to:
This probably sounds pretty obvious, but there’s more to it than you might think. We’re capable of tasting salty, sweet, sour, or bitter flavors. Grapes naturally have acid, so most wines will have some element of sour to them. However, different varieties of grapes (and the different climates they’re grown in) can affect just how sour they may be. Certain varieties are known for being more bitter or sweet, and very few wines are known for being salty (although it does happen). Try to take note of the different flavors you experience.
You’ll notice more sweet tastes on the front of your tongue right at the beginning, whereas sour flavors will be more prominent on the sides of your tongue. When you experience a mouthwatering or “pucker” sensation, your mouth is responding to sour/acid flavors.
Whenever someone uses the word “mouth-feel” they’re referring to the texture of the wine, or how it feels in their mouth. Several things can influence texture, but a more noticeable texture is usually due to wines with high alcohol content. The tongue can also “feel” tannins, which is most noticeable as a sandpaper-like, drying sensation more prominent in red wines.
This is also where you’ll determine the “body” of the wine. Full-bodied wines tend to feel heavier on your palate (which usually corresponds to high alcohol content) whereas light-bodied wines tend to feel crisper. Naturally, low-alcohol wine is usually medium or light-bodied.
How Long the Taste and Aroma Linger
The flavor and aroma of some wine tends to linger for longer than others. Plus, as we said earlier, the aroma or taste of wine can evolve after you swallow. So, some wines will have a different experience at the beginning, middle (mid-plate), and end (finish). How cool is that?!
Think About The Wine Experience
Take a moment to really consider the overall wine experience. Think about what you enjoyed about the wine, whether or not it was too acidic or tannic, was it particularly unique, etc.?
If you’re tasting wine to help you decide on a wine pairing, then this might be a good time to take some notes!
Time to Throw Your Own Wine Tasting Party!
Unless you’re studying to be a professional sommelier, wine tasting should be fun (and it’s probably still fun for professionals too 😉). So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get all the details correct every single time.
Wine tasting is a form of art appreciation. Winemakers put their hearts and souls into their wine, so taking the time to really assess and appreciate their wine is the best way to honor their work. Plus, we’ll take any excuse to share a bottle (or two) of wine with loved ones.
Let us know about your wine tasting experiences in the comments below or on our social media! A Virtual Happy Hour is the perfect wine tasting occasion, and your friends will definitely thank you. Also, consider subscribing to the SECCO Wine Club so you’ll have plenty of wine to host the next wine tasting event for you and your loved ones.