How to taste wine

Does tasting wine at a fancy restaurant makes you nervous? Do you feel awkward when all eyes are on you while having the first sip? Many people are afraid of tasting wine while it should be fun. In this blog we learn you step-by-step how to taste wine and develop an objective opinion about the served wine.

First things first

To taste wine is a careful observation of look, smell and taste. The more carefully you taste, the better you know why you prefer certain wines above others. Don’t be shy and write down your findings about a particular wine so you learn to share your thoughts in a clear and structured way.

The perfect serve

A good tasting starts with the way a wine is being served. It’s part of the experience of enjoying a fine wine, even at home. Do you have a dinner party planned and always wanted to serve your wine with style? In a previous blogpost we gathered five tips that will give you the necessary confidence to make an impression at the table.

You might even want to take the time to give more details about the wine. The better you understand the wine label, the better the story. Before you know it you sound like a true sommelier.

Evaluate a wine by sight

The colour of the wine

Look straight down into the glass and look at the colour. After a while you will learn to identify certain grapes by colour: an aged Pinot Noir has a pale brick colour in the center and an even more transparent edge. While a young Cabernet Sauvignon can be recognized by the dark ruby in the center and a slightly magenta tinted edge. The older the wine the more difference between the colour in the center and the colour at the edge.

In general intense colours indicate an exclusive wine of good quality yet keep in mind every grape has its own unique intensity level. Only compare the intensity between wines of the same vintage. For example: deeper and richer coloured Bordeaux wines will taste more intense while young Bordeaux wines with light colours will taste lighter and have more red fruits than black ones.

A good wine should also show some sparkle when looking down into the glass. The more reflection of the light the better the quality yet it doesn’t tell you anything about the taste itself.

The clarity of the wine

Raise your glass of wine and hold it to the light. See how clear it is. The clarity of the wine tells you more about the quality of the grapes and storage conditions. A cloudy wine doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is bad but can indicate a lack of finesse.

If you notice any sediment there’s no reason to panic because it’s perfectly normal with an aged vintage wine. It may not look pretty but the wine is still perfect to drink.

The viscosity of the wine

Swirl the wine and evaluate the viscosity of the wine or the ‘wine legs’. The higher the alcohol level of the wine the higher the density of the droplets on the inside of the wine glass. When the tears flow down slowly it indicates a sweet wine.  

Evaluate the smell of a wine

A first impression

Don’t swirl or bury your nose inside the glass but take a first sniff over the top. This is the perfect way to check is you smell cork or other things that don’t belong in a wine. If you smell anything irregular don’t hesitate to mention it.

Indicate the primary aromas

Take a deep sniff without swirling the glass. Make sure you hold the glass by its stem so your hands don’t warm up the wine. What do you smell? Mostly fruits? Or more herbal or floral notes? When you smell multiple aromas you’re holding a complex wine. Don’t panic if you can’t distinguish any aroma at this point. This means the wine is ‘closed’.

Indicate the secondary and tertiary aromas

Time to swirl and release the secondary aromas that come from the winemaking practices. Especially the influence of oak can be derived and aromas like toast, vanilla, cedar, spice, … When you’re tasting a young white wine or a young sparkling wine you may even notice the scent of beer. This is perfectly normal and comes from the yeast. If you still don’t smell anything the wine is indeed closed.

When you’re holding an aged vintage wine it’s possible to smell tertiary aromas as well. Aged white wines can release the smell of honey, toast, burned nuts and petrol while the smell of an aged red wine might remind you of leather, fall or the countryside.

TIP:  If you want to practice swirling, pour some water in a wine glass and swirl the water around until you feel confident enough.

Evaluate the taste of a wine

The main taste of wine

Take a sip and circulate it throughout your mouth by sucking on it as if you’re pulling the wine through a straw. Our tongues can detect four tastes: salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines will taste a little sour because grapes all inherently have some level of acidity yet a salty taste will be less likely present.

The level of tannins influences the bitterness and colour. The higher the level the deeper the colour and the more chance your mouth will feel a little dry while tasting. When bitterness is all you can taste, the tannins aren’t of good quality. Good tannins influence the aging of the wine and add stability to the texture. They are present but should be balanced by sour and fruity notes.

Discovering new aromas

By circulating the wine in your mouth you might smell new aromas. This is called the ‘retronasal smell’. As you are warming up the wine in your mouth the smell molecules shunt up through the nasal passages.

The length of the taste

Keep paying attention after you have swallowed the wine. How long does it take before the flavour is gone? The finish of the wine is just as important as the beginning and mid-palate.

Develop your own personal taste

Tasting wine should always be an interesting and pleasant experience. After a while you will develop a preference for certain grape varieties and wine regions, which makes choosing a wine at a fancy restaurant less stressful.

Do you plan a private tasting or are you a professional in organizing wine tastings? At Belgium Wine Watchers you will find a wide range of exclusive wines from the best regions in France and Italy. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help in making your selection.


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