To truly appreciate wine, learn how to taste it properly so that all the subtle nuances of your wine will be highlighted and brought to your attention. As you read through these steps, have a glass of wine in hand to experience it first-hand. Wine tasting is often broken down into five basic steps, detailed below.
Look at the wine, especially around the edges. Slightly tilting the glass can make it easier to see how the colour changes from the centre to the edges. Holding the glass in front of a white background is the best way to make out the wine's true colour and the clarity. Intensity and depth or saturation of colour are not necessarily an indication of quality.
White wines become darker as they age, while red wines tend to become more transparent, turning brownish, often with a small amount of harmless, dark red sediment in the bottom of the bottle or glass. Colour tells you a lot about the wine. Age is especially noticeable through the tone of your wine. White wines gain colour as they age and red wines lose colour. Since red wines are usually made to age longer than white wines, generally once a red wine becomes slightly transparent, it's ready to enjoy. White wines will also be darker if they're aged in wood. Different grapes have different colours too. For instance, a Chardonnay is usually darker than a Riesling.
Here is a list of some of the colours you will see in order from young wine to aged wine:
- pale yellow-green
- straw yellow
- old gold
- brick red
This is also a good time to catch a preliminary sniff of the wine so you can compare its fragrance after swirling. This will also allow you to check for any off odors that might indicate spoiled or corked wine.
You can choose to swirl clockwise or counterclockwise. There are no hard and fast rules with swirling – just keep it in the glass! Swirling allows the esters, ethers, and aldehydes to oxygenate to form the wine’s bouquet or smell. Swirling aerates the wine and allows the aromas to open up. Since the smell and taste senses are linked so closely together, smelling the wine after swirling can you an idea of what flavors to expect when you begin tasting.
During the swirl step, many wine lovers look for wine "legs" or "tears". This is when after swirling, some wine remains around the top of the glass as it slowly drips back down. It has been suggested that the more legs, the better the wine. It doesn’t necessarily tell you about the wines quality, but it will gives hints as to its alcohol content. Generally, the more legs, the higher the alcohol content in your wine.
Smell is the step that many wine lovers skim past. Smell can often tell you much more about the wine than your four taste sensations can. If a wine smells corky (wet-moldy) then it has absorbed the taste of a defective cork and is bad wine. If it smells burnt, then the wine maker has used too much sulfur dioxide when making the wine (preservative). You should buy and compare different wine smells, get wines composed of just a single grape type and practice smelling them and memorizing what they smell like until you can tell them apart. After you get a good handle on what each grape varietal smells like, you will begin linking tastes to smells and notice subtle hints in different wines to increase your appreciation.
Tasting is usually the most satisfying part of the wine-tasting experience. The four taste sensations that the mouth can recognize are sweet, sour, bitter, and salt (the latter being a taste sensation that you should not experience in wine).
Sweetness is most noticeable on the tip of the tongue. A wine will be sweet when some of the grapes sugar is left over from the fermentation process. Sweet wines are usually used as dessert wines and are usually white in variety.
Sourness is a measure of the wines acidity. The tongue is most sensitive on the sour sensation on the sides of the tongue. White wines usually have a higher amount of acidity.
Bitterness is associated with a higher amount of alcohol and tannins and can be felt mostly on the back of your tongue and throat. Tannins come from ageing in wood and from the grapes stems and skins. Red wines typically have more tannins because they're left to ferment with their skins. More tannins usually make the wine darker and drier.
The taste and balance that linger in your mouth after you swallow. A high quality wine has a longer aftertaste with all tastes acting in harmony with each other. Lower end wines usually have almost no aftertaste at all.
After you've swallowed the wine, sit back for a few minutes and consider your impressions of the wine. Ask yourself questions about the wine. Was it light or full bodied? Did the tannins overpower the taste? Is the wine ready to drink? Is it worth the price? And finally, do you like it? This is an important step as it will help commit this wine to memory. Studying the taste of a wine helps you to discern the differences in wine tastes, and will influence your buying decisions in the future. This step is the true key to refining your palette and enjoyment of wines.