How to taste wine

How to Look Like You Know How to Taste Wine

27 September 2016

So you’ve been roped into a wine tasting event with experienced friends, or you’re on a hot date and have been asked to choose the wine.

You have no idea what you’re talking about and are worried about looking daft in front of present company, but don’t worry – Late Night London has got your back!

1. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ wine

Words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are subjective, so it’s better to avoid using them (no matter how much you might want to!). Stick to non-judgy, descriptive words that liken the wine to other colours, tastes and smells you know. It’s okay to have a ‘cheat sheet’ of wine descriptors with you for reference, but try not to rely too heavily on it – you want to let your senses do the work (be prepared to use ALL of your senses).

2. Get the environment right

If you’re attending a wine tasting session, you probably won’t have much control over the environment. However, experts say that surrounding smells, crowds and lighting canall affect how you experience the wine, so take that into account (or at least take note out loud to impress your fellow tasters).

Start with the lighter wines and work your way up to the darker ones – this will avoid fatiguing your taste buds. Make sure the wine is in a clean, smooth glass (no patterns!) and that it's of the right temperature (red = room temp, white = usually cold). Its okay to warm it with your hands a little if you feel the wine is too cold - or even ask for another glass.

3. Take a look at the wine

The wine experience all starts with how it looks. Pour the wine into the glass till it’s about a third of the way full. Holding the glass by the stem (not the cup!), hold the wine up to the light and tilt the glass a little, noting how it looks around the edge. This can tell you a bit about the wine’s age and weight - pale and watery suggests a thin, possibly tasteless wine, whilst tawny or brown (for white wine) or orange or rusty brick (for red) suggests an older or previously oxidised wine.

You can also look at the wine from a straight angled, top down view to get an idea of its colour, whilst a sideways view shows the wine’s clarity or murkiness which is suggestive of its quality. Finally, swirl the glass on a flat surface and pay attention to the ‘legs’ or tears that run down the sides of the glass. More legs suggest a higher alcohol and glycerine content and therefore a fuller-bodied wine.

4. Smell the wine before you taste it

Next, smell the wine. Don’t dig your nose right in, but hover over the glass and give a few light, short sniffs. It’s important to say whatever comes to mind first, but what is usually identified are ‘flaws’ (mustiness, a strong burn smell, vinegar or polish-like smells); brettanomyces (a sweaty, yeast-like smell often found in red wines); fruit aromas and flower, herb, spice and veg aromas (these might be herbal, delicate, grassy, sweet or earthy).

Other aromas include ‘wine barrel’ aromas, which are added by the oak barrel the wine was aged in and can include whiffs of smoke, vanilla, chocolate, espresso or even caramel. Remember that no two people smell an odor in the same way. And remember to allow at least 30 seconds before diving back in for another whiff.

5. Finally, take a sip (not a glug).

Now it’s time to actually taste the wine! Take a sip, then suck on it as if pulling through a straw, allowing the wine to cover your whole tongue and ‘aerate’. (This may make you feel a bit stupid, but it's the way, we promise.)
There are three main ways to describe wine – sweet, acidity and tannin. Acidity is what gives a wine its ‘lift’, while tannin is how long the flavour lingers after swallowing – but this can sometimes make it bitter. Overall the wine should taste balanced, hitting all the taste buds in the right order (sweet, sour, salty and bitter). It should also be harmonious, meaning nothing overly sticks out. And take note of how long the flavours linger, or whether they change in your mouth. This indicates the wine’s complexity.

Try not to move too quickly to the next wine – instead take some time to savour the one already in your hand and you will come off like a wine-tasting pro!

Making notes at a wine tasting session is a great way to remember your favourites and build up your own ‘wine vocabulary’. Whether you’re a wine newbie or dedicated enthusiast, Balls Brothers have a number of Whiskey & Wine Tasting experiences to tempt your tastebuds and delight your senses.

The Editor

The Editors