Whether you’re new to drinking wine or have been enjoying wine for many years, here’s everything you need to know to start tasting wine like a pro.
Steps to Taste Wine (Beginner-Friendly)
When you’re tasting wine, here are the physical steps to follow:
1. Look – Assess the color, opacity, and viscosity of the wine. You’ll develop reference points and notice differences as well as consistencies across wines over time.
2. Swirl – Swirl the glass to release the aromas of the wine.
3. Sniff – Take in all the fruit and non-fruit aromatic characteristics of the wine.
4. Sip – Take a sip big enough to coat your tongue and gums.
5. Swish – Get a nice coating so that all your sensors can pick up the flavors of the wine.
6. Spit or Enjoy – If you’re at a winery tasting your way through a ton of wines, you may opt to spit so you can moderate your alcohol intake. If you’re tasting a wine at home, enjoy the sip and savor the flavor.
Now you know the basic steps for going through the physical act of tasting wine. Keep reading for additional context on what to look out for as you are tasting.
There are 5 components to wine structure that you need to know as you are tasting wine.
What are tannins? Simply put, they are molecules that come from grape skins and to a lesser extent, oak. As such only red wines have tannins, since their color is imparted by the skins. Tannins create a mouth drying effect on the palate, affectionately known as “gripping tannins” because they grip onto your tongue and gums. Grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo are high in tannins, while Pinot Noir and Gamay are relatively lower in tannins.
Acidity in wine varies by grape variety. Some are very tart, almost like biting into a lemon wedge! While others have a more mellow acidity. Red wines are generally not particularly high in acid, though fresher varieties from cooler climates are Pinot Noir and Gamay. White wines with high acid are Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Chardonnay wines are moderate. Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne are low in acid.
Sweetness is something we’re all familiar with! We’ve all eaten a dessert at some point. Pretty much all still red wines are dry (not sweet). Many white wines are dry as well, although some are classified as “off dry” or even a little sweeter. Off dry means that there’s a noticeable amount of residual sugar, but it’s not quite dessert wine sweet. Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines are sometimes produced as off dry wines, but there are wonderful dry expressions of both of these as well.
Alcohol is another self-explanatory one as it’s included on the label. Grape varieties grown in warmer climates tend to be higher in alcohol, because they develop more sugars as they ripen. Those sugars are then converted to alcohol during fermentation! High alcohol wines create a warming effect on the palate and in your throat.
For beginner wine tasters, body is another structural element of wine that is trickier to identify at first. Body goes hand-in-hand with alcohol. Alcohol is heavy. It’s got weight to it. Think of a sip of water versus a sip of wine. The wine is heavier on the palate as a result of the alcohol. Higher alcohol wines weigh the most and are generally full-bodied.
Across all 5 of these components of wine structure, you’ll build reference points over time. You’ll start to notice differences across grape varieties, especially when produced in different climates.
Understanding the Aromas of Wines
You’ll often find the tasting notes of a wine written on the wine label. Wines have various fruit and non-fruit aromatic characteristics.
Fruit characteristics you find in white wines are general tree, citrus, stone, and tropical fruits. In red wines, you’ll find red, black, and blue berry and stone fruit berries.
Non-fruit characteristics in white wines can be floral. Other notes include vegetal, herbal, honey, ginger, butter, cream, wax, and more. Most of these are a result of either oak treatment or lees stirring (the addition of dead yeast cells). In red wines, floral, vegetal, and herbal notes can be expressed. Additionally, aromas of peppercorn, baking spices, tobacco, cured meats, and leather can be imparted by oak.
Aromas in wine may be difficult to pick up on until you start actively looking for them. Your nose gets sharper the more you practice. If you’re new to tasting wine, start with wines that have descriptors on the label and try to look for them.
Wrap Up on How to Taste Wine
Ultimately, there are a few key steps part of the physical act of tasting wine, from looking at the wine in your glass to savoring a sip. Wine structure is critical to tasting wine, as you assess tannins, sweetness, acidity, alcohol, and body. Finally, appreciating the complex aromatic characteristics of wine is tricky at first, but critical to tasting wines like a pro!