How to Pick a Good Wine

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How to Pick a Good WineNo more embarrassing moments when asked to place a wine order at dinner. You can converse with the wait staff about the ‘nose’ or ‘finish’ of a wine when ordering.

A wine tasting class is useful for learning the basics of choosing wine. The class teaches the four stages of evaluation that may seem intimidating at first. Novices learn how to choose good wines, experiment with new wine varieties, and start to build their wine collections. When evaluating wines, always start with lighter or white wines first because heavier or red wines distort the delicate flavors of lighter wines.

The ‘varietals’ or types of grapes used, soil and growing conditions, length of time on the vine, and the aging process affect the wine’s quality. Grapes that stay on the vine longer than normal produce a complex flavor. In sharp contrast, picking grapes earlier in the growing season produces younger wines. The two basic categories of wines are white and red; however, dessert, fortified, rose’, and sparkling wines are the other categories.


Color and clarity are the appearance evaluations for wines. When evaluating color, it includes the hue and depth of a wine. Reds should not appear flat but have variety and intensity in their coloration. Whites have gold to yellow shading but may include hints of green. In order to evaluate the color, hold the glass up to a light or white colored background.

By tilting the wine glass side to side, the taster will be able to note if the wine has ‘legs’. The oily streams that run down the inside of a glass are the ‘legs’ and indicate higher alcohol content. White wines start out pale and darken with age, and red wines tend to have shades of bright red and darken to purplish or brownish as they age.


The ‘nose’ of the wine includes its aroma and bouquet. To release a wine’s aromas, swirl the wine to expose it to surface air. Let the wine ‘breathe’ for a few minutes before sniffing. Placing the nose in the glass allows deep inhalation to determine fruit, flower, wood, or spice aromas. This stage of observation is subjective and the taster may use other words to describe wine aromas. The inhaled aromas determine how the palate perceives the taste of the wine.


The purpose for wine tasting is not to drink it but evaluate its flavors and that is the taste or ‘palate’. Take a small sip of wine but do not swallow and let it to roll around in the mouth to detect the aromas and flavors. An experienced wine taster introduces air into his or her mouth to bring out more of the flavors in the wine. The taster tips his or her head forward and down, forms the lips as if to whistle, and breathes in with the mouth and nose at the same time.

The wine’s elements are acid, alcohol and tannin, and it is what a taster looks for in a balanced wine. The level of residual sugars in a wine determines its sweetness. All elements control the sweetness of a wine. It is easy to confuse sweetness with fruitiness; however, fruity wines do not have to contain high amounts of sugar, and wines with low amounts of sugar can taste fruity. Generally, sweeter wines tend to have higher amounts of alcohol. When the elements are not balanced, it affects the taste. If there is too little acid, the wine tastes flat and not as refreshing, and a wine with too much tannin makes the mouth pucker. The tannins in the wine determine whether the wine is light, medium, or full body, and over time, tannins soften as the wine ages.


The sensation left in the mouth after swallowing is the wine’s ‘finish’. A long or short finish depends on how long the sensation remains on the palate.

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