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How to Taste Wine

The strange ritual of swirling, slurping, sniffing and spitting out of wine that tasters go through is not a worthless snobby activity. It is the best way to release the aromas and tastes into your mouth and nose.

‘Wine tasting’ should really be called ‘wine testing’ for it predominantly involves smelling the wine.

There are 3 stages to tasting wine:


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How to Taste : A wine tasting course based around practical exercises that will guide you from your first sips to confident, well-informed gulps.

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English Vineyard Tour and Tasting Gift Experience for 2 : Guided tour of an award winning English Vineyard and orchard. Personal tasting of wines, juice and cider.

Inspecting the Wine

Pour out a third of a glass of wine into a clear glass. Tinted glasses are not suitable as you will be unable to judge the wine’s colour correctly.

In the past wine was examined for clarity. This is not the case these days as wine-making technology has improved considerably and the chances of you encountering a cloudy wine are vary rare.

Tilt your glass away from you and look at the colour against a white background (a white napkin, tablecloth or sheet of paper). Notice how dark or pale the wine is, notice what colour it is. As you examine more wines you will begin to notice differences.

You should note that as white wines age they become darker turning a rich, golden amber. Red wines gradually lose their color turning browner, often with a small amount of dark red sediment in the bottom of the bottle or glass.

Swirl the wine around the glass and observe the oily droplets of wine that flow slowly down the inside of the glass. These droplets are referred to as the ‘legs’ or ‘tears’. In the past these legs were believed to indicate a high quality wine but today no conclusions are to be drawn from them.

For sparkling wines examine the size of the bubbles, referred to as the ‘bead’. Champagne has smaller bubbles (a finer bead) than other sparkling wine.

cabernet sauvignonpinot noirchardonnayreisling

  Cabernet Sauvignon Pinot Noir Chardonnay Riesling  

Smelling the Wine

With your glass on the table rotate it to swirl the wine up onto the side of the glass. This increases the surface area of wine allowing some of it to mix with air to release aromas.

Warning: don’t swirl the wine if your glass is more than half full or else you will have it all over the table!

swirling the wine

Quickly bring the glass to your nose and stick your nose in as far as it will go without touching the wine. Smell the wine and try to describe the aromas. Are they woody, fruity, earth? Ask your friends what they can smell and try to identify the same smells.

Note that your nose quickly loses its sensitivity but it also recovers quickly. Smell something else for a few moments – your water, bread, sleeve etc. This may sound comical but it refreshes your sense of smell.

Young wines have primary aromas that come from the grape that was used to make the wine. These aromas are often fruity and the wines are described smelling of blackcurrants, raspberries etc.

As wines start to mature secondary aromas develop which may be more earthy.

Typical aromas often found in wine are: Fruits, Coffee or chocolate, Flowers, Herbs, Tobacco, Smoke, Vegatables, Toast, Grass, Earth.

Tip: Get into the habit of smelling things around you. Smell your cooking ingredients, the food on your plate, fruit and vegetables. Smell everything around you – freshly washed sheets, a leather coat, flowers, wood, grass etc. The purpose of doing this is to fill your memory bank with a host of smells that you can recall when needed.  Unlike other senses we cant  lable a smell as green, blue etc but we have to compare one smell with another eg it smells like rotten eggs, like coffee, like cherries etc.

Tasting the Wine

Firstly you must realise that little of the flavour that can be sensed actually involves your tongue – your nose does most of the work.

Your tongue can identify four basic primary tastes – sweetness, bitterness, saltiness and sourness. These tastes are detected by different parts of the tongue. Sweetness is manly registered on the front of the tongue, sourness mainly on the sides and bitterness across the rear. Saltiness is not a taste associated with wine.

So if the tongue can only detect these three tastes what about the fruitiness, chocolate tastes etc? These more subtle flavours are not detected by the tongue but by the nose when the aromas are inhaled into your nasal passage.

The basic aim when tasting is to move the wine around your mouth so that it comes into contact with the three areas of your tongue. At the same time, aromas are released as the wine mixes with air allowing your nose to detect the flavours.

Tasting Method:

Take a sip of the wine and hold it inside your mouth.

The first taste to register will be the sweetness as the wine hits the front of your tongue. The next will be the sourness, or acidity in wine terms as the wine hits the sides of your tongue. The final taste will the bitterness, due to the tannins, at the back of your tongue.

Next purse your lips together and suck some air in across the wine. Swish the wine around your mouth like you are chewing it. Feel the wine, is it light, heavy, rough, smooth etc? Now try and describe the aromas that your nose detects (see the list above for common terms that are used).

Finally  swallow the wine (or spit it out).


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