Drinking wine is like listening to music. It’s pleasant and provides even greater satisfaction when you pay attention. Like music, everyone has their own preferences. Everyone listens to different genres and tries different varietals while wine tasting before they can say what their favorites are. Over time, these preferences can change.
Finding a wine you like begins with tasting. Pouring a glass and drinking it is one way, but you’ll find greater satisfaction if you focus on how you are tasting.
Wine Tasting Conditions
Taste reflects the wine you’re drinking and the conditions in which you’re drinking. For example, a noisy room with chaos all around you is going to distract from the flavors in the wine. Scents that are carried or being created in the room will affect your ability to taste the wine. A large part of the ability to taste comes from the ability to smell.
The wine glass you’re drinking out of will also have an effect on the experience. Too small, the wrong shape, or improperly washed can lead to a less than ideal flavor. In my opinion, the drinking temperature, the age of the wine, and how the oxygen interacts with the wine are the biggest factors that affect the taste. It’s also important to avoid any strongly flavored liquids (Coffee) or foods when tasting wine.
Wine is a visual drink. Obviously, there is red and white that can be gleaned by sight, but different varietals will have different hues of red and white.
Some helpful tips:
- Look down into the glass or put it up to the light. A well-lit background lets you see the wine’s density and true colors. A full-bodied red wine will be difficult to look through while a lighter red will be seen through, indicating a lighter, fruiter flavor. A lighter shade may be seen in Pinot Noir, or many French and Italian wines. A darker shade may be Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, or Merlot.
- Viewing the from the side can give you good a look at the contents of the wine. A murkier wine with sediment will show through. Many older wines may have sediment that is separated from the rest of the liquid.
- Swirl the glass around. You may notice “legs” as the wine drips down the side of the glass. Some will say good legs indicate alcohol and glycerin content, leading to a denser and riper wine. On the contrary, some wise winemakers will say that the only thing legs show is how the wine glass was made.
Don’t hesitate to dig your nose deep into the glass to take a sniff. The nose is a powerful body part that can distinguish thousands of scents. Like I said before, a large part of tasting comes from the nose. Personally, I like to take several sniffs from the glass. Often times, you may not notice a scent the first time or perhaps it smells different after some oxygen has mixed with the wine. Take note of what you smell: oak, tobacco, dark fruit, red fruit, citrus, earthy?
Unlike the nose, the tongue can only taste four major flavors: sour, sweet, salty, and bitter. A wine’s taste can be described using acidity, sweetness, boldness, and tannin.
Lots of wines will tend towards sour due to the grapes. The intensity will depend on the climate the grape was grown in. A tannic wine will leave your mouth dry after you swallow. I find that drinking wine with some light food like crackers or bread will help clear your pallet and after tastes between sips or glasses of different wines.
Wine tasting is about finding a wine you enjoy. Just like listening to music, it can be a subjective experience but it’s always great to enjoy and compare with others to get a different perspective.