We’ve all been there- you’re at a dinner party and someone pours wine, and you’re about to go for it when you look around and see everyone swirling and sniffing their glass. Confusion ensues. Don’t worry, we’ll help you and then you can do it too!
Sure, the art of wine tasting is deeply involved and highly sophisticated one but it doesn’t have to be that complicated for the regular vino lover. There are just a few steps that you can take to help you ascend to the level of proper wine etiquette, which also leads you to understand your own preferences and palate.
The key is really to use your senses. Wine is a very sensory experience; we see the color, taste the flavors, and smell the various aromas that waft out. It’s honestly a very complicated beverage and does deserve the attention you will be giving it after you read the following steps.
Step 1: Look at it.
Yep, just gaze into the inky red or glistening white liquid in your glass and see what it says to you. Is it super dark and almost opaque? Look at the color from the side and from the top to get a distinct impression of the transparency, a sign that it’s properly fermented and clean. If you swirl it around, does it slowly drip back down into the bowl with what they call “legs?” Those legs are indicators of alcohol and glycerin, two things that equal a more full-bodied and rich wine.
Step 2: Give it a sniff.
You’ve seen it happen everywhere- people sticking their faces in the glass inhaling deeply as if to sniff the soul of the wine. Well, it doesn’t have to be that dramatic but that is sort of what you’re doing. You don’t have to go all the way in there- just make sure you’re close enough to really get all of the goodness. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly and deeply. See if you can pick out familiar scents of different fruits, earthy smells like wood, fire, or tobacco, as well as herbs or baking spices. You may have to do this a few times to really unveil the different layers that are hiding within your glass.
Step 3: Taste it!
Ah, the best part. But we’re not talking about a big swig. Take little baby sips and let the wine sort of rest on your tongue as your taste buds figure out what is happening in there. Make sure you really taste it before swallowing it. If you’re trying to really do a wine tasting, the point isn’t to consume as much as possible, you want to really understand what you’re drinking. Just as you did with smell, close your eyes and see what you can pick out. Do the flavors match what you thought you smelled? Try to pick out even more nuances and aromas, maybe ones that match what you initially discovered or other ones that seem unfamiliar. Can you describe the flavor or put a name to it?
Step 4: Pay Attention
The key to wine tasting is really focusing. Wine can be extremely subtle, or it’s so bold that you have no idea what’s going on. It’s not like biting into a hamburger where you just go “oh, that’s beef with onions on top.” This is more “oh, those are grapes but wait there’s more” and then you’re going on a goose chase trying to figure them out. Give your mind over to the process, put yourself in the glass, and really try to understand what you’re doing.
Step 5: Rinse and repeat.
Just like anything else in this world, you’re only going to get better at wine tasting if you do it over and over again. The people who claim to truly know wine have most likely been at it for years and years, and have stuck their noses in a whole lot of glasses. Make a habit out of trying something new simply to see if you can figure out what the tasting notes are. There are dozens of websites where you can go to see if you’re right, and the more you do it, the more you’ll know what you prefer. It’s a fantastic exercise especially if you’re into cooking and want to understand pairings, or if you just enjoy wine and want to know more.