How to Taste Wine
The sense of smell is extremely important in tasting wine and food. We can identify and perceive thousands of smells. So breathe in and out through the nose as you taste, and if you feel like it, slurp some air in through the mouth over the wine. It will help to release the aromas.
It is worth taking a good look at the wine, as its appearance is very important. It’s best to view the wine against a white background, in order to see its true color. A white plate or tablecloth will do. For the same reason, use only clear, clean wine glasses- the bigger the better.
Color: The color of a red wine will give a clue as to the age of the wine. Many red wines start life as a deep purple color, sometimes almost opaque. With time, however, the wines lose this youthful intensity, and begin to take on a paler, tawny, brick red hue. Initially this appears at the rim of the wine, but as the years pass the whole wine will take on this color, fading to a brick red or brown.
The color of a red wine may give a clue not only to the age of the wine, but also to the grapes which have been used. This is because different grapes produce wines of differing intensities of color. Pinot Noir will almost always be the lightest red on the table, whereas many other red grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot would be expected to be an inky purple-black.
Similar information may be gathered from inspecting a white wine, although the pattern of color change as white wine ages is different. As with red wines, the color of a white wine will also give some clue as to the grapes used, and also from where the wine originates. Cool climate wines tend to be less richly colored; hence Burgundian Chardonnay can be paler than an Australian example. Certain grapes have an almost characteristic hue, such as the green tinge of Riesling, or the ivory hue of Pinot Grigio.
Legs: This tasting term refers to the droplets of wine that run down the inside of the glass after the wine has been swirled. While some people believe this is a quality marker, it’s really just a reflection of the alcohol level in the wine. Wine is a mixture of alcohol and water, and alcohol evaporates faster than water. When you swirl the wine in your glass, you cause the alcohol to evaporate more quickly and the evaporation pushes the water into "legs", or "tears" as the French refer to them, on the side of the glass. Gravity then takes over and the legs run back down the side of the glass. The longer the legs last on the glass the higher the alcohol in the wine.
Bead: With reference to sparkling wines, the bead describes the size of the bubbles generated by the wine. Champagne is said to generate a finer bead (smaller bubbles) than other sparkling wines.
Swirl the glass to throw the wine up onto the side of the glass, thus increasing the surface area of wine in contact with the air. It is during this swirling between wine and air that aromas are released, and thus increasing the surface area helps to make the aromas more apparent. The agitation of the wine, of course, also helps. To swirl effectively, don’t fill the glass too full - in fact less than half full is recommended. Be gentle, in order to bring the wine up onto the side of the glass without spilling it altogether. If you find you are spilling wine, and haven’t overfilled the glass, place the base of the glass on the table and using a few good circular motions on the table top to get the aromas going.
Once done, stick your nose in the glass a take a good sniff, and think about what aromas are coming up from the glass as you do so. Young wines will have primary aromas, relating to the grape variety. Such smells are often fruit related, and hence wines are described as smelling of blackcurrants, raspberries, and so on, or maybe simply as ‘fruity’. As wines age, more secondary aromas develop which may be more earthy or complex.
Many people feel that the bouquet of a wine is the most enjoyable part of the experience, more so than actually tasting it. The aromas generated by a glass of fine wine can be many, intertwined in a most intimate and complex manner. Aromas in wine take on many different forms, and very rarely does a wine smell of grapes, but rather the aromas from the winemaking experience, as well as the source of the grapes origin. .
There is a lot more to describe when tasting the wine than simple flavor. Flavors often are a reflection of what you have already smelled in the glass. Once tasted however, other elements come into play. Detecting the presence and relative quantities of these substances tells you about quality, ageing potential, how well the wine will drink with food, and so on. This empowers you to select your favorite wines as you analyze the wine and understand what it is you like about them.
The finish describes the lingering tastes after you’ve swallowed the wine. It will often be different to how the wine came across on the palate, so take note. The flavors may stay for a while on the palate after the wine has been swallowed, and this is referred to as the length. The more length a wine has, the more time you have to enjoy it, and it’s probably true to say that such wines are generally of better quality.