Wine Tasting 101

Wine tasting 101

When I first started visiting wineries on my first trip to Napa in the 1980s, I felt like I was in an expensive restaurant with forty forks to choose from.
The purpose of going wine tasting is more than a tourist activity, although it is a great way to discover a new area and its agriculture industry. The reason why you should go wine tasting is because you can try before you buy. It gives the opportunity to find something you like and educate yourself about wine along the way.

Granted it can be an intimidating experience to watch people standing next to you swirling, sniffing and making other weird noises in their throats. However, the enjoyment of finding a good vintage can far outweigh the strange behavior of wine connoisseurs.

Often there are more than 20 wines on the tasting list and the hardest part is finding where to start.

It takes a little exploration of your personal tastes to find what you like. If you know you only like sweet whites, ask to taste those, or if you only like Merlots, just taste those. However, if you want to expand your experience and get to know the quality of the winery, then tasting down the list is the best way to accomplish that.

When I go wine tasting, I do it to educate my palate and, because I do this for a job, I need to get as much information as possible out of a single sip of wine. Often, I’ll visit up to 10 wineries a day each with more than 20 wines on the list and I need to keep a clear head to get the research done. I need to educate myself through comparing new tasting experiences with memories of past favorites and dislikes.

Unlike math, there are no wrong answers in wine tasting. Really, there are no right ones either, just whatever touches your taste buds.

The process can be broken down into five basic steps: color, swirl, smell, taste and savor.

The color of the wine can tell you what varietal it is, how old it is, whether it was aged in oak or whether it’s bad or not. White wines can range from pale yellow green to a golden yellow. Red wines can be anything from a ruby red to a deep blackish purple. Once you identify the varietal, look for clarity and whether the color meets a recognized standard.

Now you get to do what most people love to do, swirl. Move the glass in a circular fashion without getting too wild or flamboyant. Swirling introduces air into the wine, releasing the chemicals that make up the flavors.

Next step is to smell the wine, this is called the “nose.” Human beings can smell more than 2,000 scents, and wine has about 200 scents of its own. So take some time at this point and open your nose and your imagination to what the wine smells like; and it smells like more than just grapes! As a wine writer, I’ve become familiar with the different adjectives used and the descriptions do much more than just add flowery commentary.
Finally, taste the wine but don’t gulp or swallow quickly. You’ll want to hit all the taste buds in your mouth and back of the throat. Look for sweetness, varietal characteristics, acidity and tannins.

Swallow and savor. How long does the aftertaste last? The longer the better.

Ask yourself how was the body of the wine, how was the acidity, where the tannins too strong, is it worth the price and, most importantly, did you like it?

Tasting wine will develop a memory of what you like and what you don’t like, and it will allow you to make more educated choices about what wines you spend your money on. Take your time and enjoy educating your palate, if you’re like most people new to the wine world, it’s got a lot to learn.


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