Wine Tasting

Tips on wine tasting

The ritual of wine tasting can help you get maximum enjoyment out of a bottle of wine. It is by far the quickest way to understand the numerous grape varieties and styles of wines from around the world.

Wine, unlike most other beverages, has hidden subtleties and complexities. If you simply chug it, you are missing a delightful sensory experience. A more appropriate description for wine tasting is "sensory evaluation" because sight and smell, as well as taste, play a major role in the process of wine appraisal.

To get started

Read the label

The label tells you a great deal about what to expect. Most labels offer basic information, such as the region of origin, the year the grapes were harvested, the wine's classification, alcohol content, and the name of the producer. Some labels also state the grape variety.

Choose a suitable glass for tasting

A big tulip-shaped glass with a long stem, broad base, and narrow top helps to concentrate the aromas and flavors. A sherry copita or Paris goblet is also considered a suitable shape. Fill the glass no more than a third full to allow for swirling. Swirling intensifies your appreciation of the wine's bouquet.

Three main stages of wine tasting


Hold the glass by the stem and tilt it towards the light or against a white background. Look carefully at the color. The color should always be clear and bright, never dull or cloudy. By tilting the glass, you can appreciate the gradations of color from the rim to the center. These gradations will give you some clues about the age of the wine, the grape variety, and even a hint of the type of climate in which the grapes were grown.

White wines, for instance, can range in color from very pale with green tinges--which indicates young, fresh wine--to deep gold, which means that the wine is probably older and sweeter. Watch out for any browning at the rim ("meniscus"), as this may suggest that the wine is past its best, or worse still, oxidized.

Red wines progress from purple when young to ruby, garnet, brick red, or even slightly brown in old age. Reds, however, should always be intensely bright and sumptuous in appearance.

Rosé wines can be pink, deep pink, or even onion-skinned in color but should always look brilliant and bright in the glass. Rosés should never be brown or subdued in appearance.


Smell, also known as "nose," "bouquet," or "aroma," is the most important part of wine tasting and is very much interrelated with taste. There are only four basic perceptions of taste: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt, whereas the average person can smell over 2,000 different scents.

Swirl the wine to release the bouquet. The wine becomes more concentrated as it reaches the rim of the glass. Place your nose right into the glass and take in a long, deep smell. Do this at least three times. You will find that the third smell is the most informative. Use your memory and imagination to associate the smell with other, previously experienced smells. The best way to establish your own preferences for individual grape varieties is to try and memorize the characteristics of some of the main grapes. Here are some, with type of grape mentioned first and main characteristic(s) second:

1. Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackcurrants

2. Pinot Noir: Strawberries, Cherries, Plums

3. Merlot: Plum, Damson

4. Nebbiola: Prunes

5. Syrah/Siraz: Raspberries

6. Zinfandel: Raspberries, Blackberries, Spice

7. Chardonnay: Melon, Pineapple

8. Chenin Blanc: Apples

9. Gewürztraminer: Tropical Fruits, Spice

10. Riesling: Apricots, Peaches

11. Sauvignon Blanc: Gooseberries


Taste is detected in different parts of your mouth, but most essentially, with your taste buds on the tongue. Sweetness is identified at the tip and center of the tongue, acidity on the upper edges, bitterness at the back, and saltiness on the sides and tip. Consider the following when evaluating taste:

1. Sweetness and dryness will be immediately apparent.

2. Acidity is recognized by a gum-drying sensation, most commonly present in white wines and lighter style reds.

3. Tannin or astringency gives a dry coating or furring sensation, particularly on the teeth and gums. It is mainly associated with red wines or wood-aged whites. When the wines are too young, the tannin dries the palate to excess and can actually coat your whole mouth.

4. Aftertaste is the overall taste and balance of the wine that lingers after tasting. An indication of a good quality wine is a long, pleasing aftertaste. The aftertaste of some great wines can last anywhere between one and three minutes. All the individual elements of the wine should be in perfect harmony.

Useful wine tasting terms

Astringent: the wine has a mouth-puckering, drying effect and the tannin is prominent

Big: full-bodied, gutsy, with plenty of fruit flavor, alcohol, acid, and tannin

Buttery: a distinct smell of butter, possibly as a result of maturing in oak barrels

Clean: used to describe uncomplicated, fresh wine

Complex: a wine that has several layers of flavors

Crisp: usually applied to refreshing white wines with good acidity

Dull: the flavors are indistinct and could have resulted from excess exposure to oxygen

Earthy: the wine smells of damp earth, which is a pleasant characteristic in simple red wines

Fat: full-bodied and rich

Firm: well balanced

Flabby: lacking in balance and acidity

Fresh: usually refers to young wine with good acidity and fruity flavors

Green: describes grapes from cooler climates or grapes that are merely unripe

Hard: a white wine with too much acid or a red wine with excess tannin

Neutral: a wine with no distinct flavor

Oaky: a vanilla, toasty, and buttery flavor, usually acquired from new oak barrels

Prickly: a refreshing fizziness that is pleasant in simple white wines

Rich: powerful flavors with plenty of alcohol

Rounded: well-balanced flavors with no unpleasant sharpness

Spicy: exotic fragrances

Steely: refers to a wine that is lean but not thin with good acidity

Tart: sharp and acidic

A final tip

If you intend to taste a number of wines in a limited space of time, spitting is the only way to fully appreciate the individual characteristics of each wine. Also, try to stay sober.

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