Wine Tasting ABCs

Tasting wine is something that the more you time and energy you invest in it the more you get out of it. As this is no secret, wine connoisseurs, or oenophiles, passionately map out every sensation, from sight to smell to feel to taste.

You may have the opportunity to attend a formal tasting, or you may just want to get the best out of wine at home. If you are a complete beginner, you should understand the general characteristics associated with red and white wine. Then, you should explore different varietals and get a rough idea of what to expect and what makes that varietal special. Taking the time to expose yourself to wine in an orderly fashion makes it easier to notice subtleties later on. However, don’t lose perspective and forget the simple enjoyment of wine, that age-old pleasure from a fabled drink. There are three basic senses in evaluating and experience wine, sight (appearance), smell and taste.


Other than blind competitions, the first thing you encounter is the appearance of wine (a glass 1/5 filled). Appearance is normally broken down into three categories:

1. Color: Variations in wine color say a lot about a wine, especially as to age and quality.

Put the wine up against something white, like a tablecloth, a napkin or white wall to see better. Try to settle on a specific color that you can remember (brackish, ruby, violet). Make connections between the varietals, the age and the wine making process and the color.

2.Clarity: Clarity identifies impurities, flaws in bottling and consistency.

Inspect the wine in the glass. It is easiest to assess how clear it is at the edges. Look for particles in the wine. Wine shouldn’t be murky or cloudy.

3.Viscosity or “Legs”: The droplets that are sometimes visible running down the side of a glass of wine are called “legs.” This is a measure of the thickness of the wine. With wine, it shows the proportion of water to alcohol. Wine with more discernible legs has higher alcohol content.

Swirl the glass with your wrist. As this isn’t a natural motion (many use their arms at first), the easiest way to do this until you get the hang of it is to put the wine glass on the table. Then put your hand flat on the table, wine glass between fingers, and make circles and the wine will swirl.

 Smell (Bouquet)

A wine’s smell is the most unique aspect, and it normally brings to mind other smells and sometimes, memories. Our nose can identify hundreds of different scents, but we normally neglect it in modern times.  This sense, more than anything, is what differentiates a  expert oenophile from a wine-lover.

  1. 1st sniff:  After swirling the wine, you can take a preliminary sniff at a couple inches. This isn’t putting your nose inside the glass, (as you do in the next part) but determining how much the wine’s scent carries, quality and general characteristics.
  2. Deep inhalation: Next, you put your nose in the glass tilted so that the wine comes close but does not touch your nose. What do you smell? There are a lot of descriptive words that come to mind with the scents of wine, like honey, flowers (specific sometimes), citrus, jam, oak, etc. If no word comes to your mind right away, take a second and just enjoy the smell. You will make the connections if you take your time.

The smelling process does not end when you sip the wine. Pay close attention as the scents that enter your nose through exhalation and they don’t always correspond with inhalation.


The tasting is brings together all the ends. You may be surprised but we only have 5 tastes in comparison to smell. Still, the 5 taste buds (sweet, sour, bitter, salty, umami/savory), working with smell, can be stimulated in many different permutations. Normally, a wine connoisseur judges the balance (or harmony) of the wine by several factors like dryness (sweetness), acidity, alcohol and tannin. Different grapes and varietals express those factors in different ways.

  1. Texture: Small sip, let it roll around your mouth and touch your tongue
  2. Attack: the four factors (dryness, acidity, alcohol and tannin)…does one dominate? Is it balanced?
  3. Then spit, if you are tasting other wines
  4.  Aftertaste: What is the aftertaste and does it match? Does it linger (think how many seconds)? Does it finish smooth? What scents do you pick up?

Now write down your observations. It is good to keep track of it as no one has a perfect memory. To make yourself keep with it and enrich the experience, delve into wine with a friend. They can accompany to you wine events so you will learn together. But don’t hesitate to talk with others and grow as a wine drinker.

All Creative Commons Photos From Flickr