Excerpted from Wine Tasting in Southern California & Beyond
Tasting wine can be an overwhelming experience, especially if you’re just beginning. But there are really only a few steps to remember. Keep in mind that tasting wine involves your senses: your eyes, nose, and mouth. The label will tell you the wine grape variety and vintage. Try the following steps next time you’re tasting wine. It should take you only a few minutes.
Look at the color of the wine while it’s in the glass. It should be clear with no film. But don’t worry about sediment in red wines and crystals in white wines. These won’t hurt you. Also, look at the hue of the wine. The darker the wine, the stronger the taste. However, as red wines get older the reverse is true. Be leery of red wines that are a true red or have hints of orange. Most likely they’re too old. White wines are probably too old if there are hints of brown in them. White wines tend to get darker as they age. A good way to see the hue of the wine is to look at it against a white background. Tilt the glass and use a white cloth or paper to look at the wine near the outer edge of the glass.
This is an important step because your nose can detect thousands of scents. You should first swirl the wine. This will bring out the wine’s bouquet. Now breathe in the wine and linger for just a moment. If you’re using the back of this book to record your tasting, make a few notes about what you smell. Most often you will smell pleasant odors such as oak, honey, rose petals, and berries. However, you may also smell unpleasant odors. Sulfur dioxide, a burning match smell, is sometimes found in inexpensive white wines. Also, watch out for wine that has a vinegar smell. If you like what you smell, you’ll most likely enjoy the taste. Don’t worry about what it’s “supposed” to smell like–everyone has different impressions.
Take a sip of the wine. Some people suggest moving the wine around in the mouth and holding it in the mouth for about ten seconds. This will give you an idea of how the wine tastes and feels. Do what you are comfortable with. As you sip, hold the wine on your tongue to determine if it is sweet, sour, salty, or bitter. Saltiness is difficult to detect; sweetness is probably the easiest. Usually white and rosé wines are the sweetest. A bitter wine will have an astringent taste. That’s because it contains tannin, which is found in red wine. Tannin is an antioxidant that slows down the aging cycle of red wine. It is found in grape skins, stalks, and sometimes in oak barrels. If a wine is too bitter, try eating some cheese. This will help to reduce the bitter flavor because the protein in the cheese will mix with the tannin and soften the taste. Try “chewing” the wine as you would chew food. You might find different tastes by doing this. Once you’ve swallowed the wine, note the lingering taste. This is called the “length.” Try to determine why you like one wine over the other, and while you’re tasting, note the differences in expensive versus inexpensive wines. It’s a good idea to drink water after each taste to clear your palate.