Wine tasting is a fun event that can be shared with friends, so don’t be intimidated by its elitist reputation. Wine tasting is no longer confined to the upper crust, and anyone can gain an appreciation for the differences between wines simply by following a few easy rules.
There are so many different types of wine it may seem that it would be difficult to assess one from another, but there are some very straightforward aspects that can be evaluated and described. Breaking down these aspects will give you the ability to discern the differences between different wine types, and evaluate what makes one wine better or different than another.
Here are some simple rules to follow at your first wine tasting:
Use all five senses. This is the most important rule in evaluating wines. It also turns wine tasting into a completely sensual experience.
You’ll you use your sense of sight to see the hue, the clarity, the viscosity or “legs” and the depth or opacity. Wine can be very beautiful visually. This is the first aspect you will evaluate.
You use your sense of hearing when the wine is poured and when it’s swirled in the glass. Though this isn’t part of the official evaluation of wine quality, you might be surprised by how different the various wines will sound! The sounds that are made by the wine tasters as they taste will also give you a bit of education, since a satisfied sigh is often a sign of a good wine being savored by an expert.
Now you use your sense of smell. Swirl the wine in the glass again and hold it to your nose. This is how you judge the wine’s bouquet or nose.
When you finally do take a sip of wine into your mouth, you’ll use your sense of touch and your sense of taste both. How the wine feels as you swirl it in your mouth is just as much a part of wine tasting as how it tastes. Now purse your lips and take in a bit of air. You’ll release more flavor. You hold the wine in your mouth for a bit to warm it. This also releases more flavor. An acidic wine will feel differently in your mouth than one that isn’t as acidic. Sugar has a long aftertaste, so the amount of sugar will extend the taste in your mouth. Tannins can add bitter overtones, not necessarily a bad thing in a sweeter wine.
Take your time at each step. Winetasting is a leisurely experience to be savored, not a day at the races.
It’s considered polite to spit! Yes, expectorating the wine is the polite thing to do, even if it’s done in front of the winemaker. Do ask where to spit, or follow the lead of others in the tasting party. Many places supply a spittoon for the purpose, but some places use the gravel floor between the casks or the ground or dirt floor if it’s a cellar or outside tasting. The reason it’s considered polite is that nobody wants to get drunk or deal with a drunk at a wine tasting. You will be surprised that you will feel the effects even if you don’t swallow, if you’ve gone through tasting a lot of varieties. Alcohol is absorbed through your mouth’s skin. So we expectorate to limit our alcohol intake when tasting a lot of different wines.
Clear your palate between each variety. Some flavors, such as sugar, linger longer than others. Clearing your palate with some water or a bite of bread will ensure that you’re experiencing only one wine at a time.
Don’t be afraid to discuss what you’re experiencing at each step. This is how you learn, though since everyone experiences a wine differently, depending on the sensitivity of their sensory organs, don’t be surprised that your description wildly differs from someone else’s. It may help to know that the sense of smell is the sense most likely to be overwhelmed.
Following these simple rules will allow you to enjoy winetasting fully, and allow you to become adept at discerning the differences between the great varieties of wine.