Whether you’re new to the wine world or have been around for years, you may have noticed that there’s a bit of a difference between drinking wine and tasting wine. While the two might sound similar (or even completely synonymous), there actually is a distinction between drinking wine… and truly tasting it.
Whether or not the wine contains alcohol, the tasting experience is the same. So whether you choose to live alcohol-free, or enjoy a glass of alcoholic wine, you can still learn the skills of sipping like a sommelier. Consider these tasting tips for the next time you enjoy a delicious glass of wine. As Eric Pool, the owner of Berryville Vineyards in Claremont, Illinois, said, “When I’m tasting wine, I remember the five S’s.” As you pour yourself a glass of wine, keep these S’s in mind to taste the experience.
1. See the wine.
The first step toward tasting the wine actually begins with seeing it. This is more than a quick glance as you pour the bottle into a glass. Instead, take a moment to evaluate the wine itself. Notice the color, clarity and consistency of the wine by holding it up in a well-lit room. Take note of the wine’s depth of color.
Is the wine watery and pale, or deep and dark? White wines range in color from crystal clear, to light green, to shades of yellow and even deep golden brown. Meanwhile, red wines vary between red, ruby, purple and brick. And while white wines gain color as they age, red wines lose color and begin to turn brown. Be mindful of these elements as you evaluate the wine and move through the tasting process.
2. Swirl the wine.
After a brief time, gently swirl the wine around the glass. Swirling enlarges the surface area of the wine in contact with the air. This exposes the wine’s legs and releases new aromas. A wine’s “legs” refer to the “tears” which run down the side of the glass when you swirl it. A wine with strong legs tends to have more alcohol and glycerin content, which generally indicates a denser texture.
As you swirl, be sure to hold your glass by its base or stem, so the temperature from your hand doesn’t warm the wine in the bowl. Although sommeliers swirl their wine in the air, if you’re just starting out, it might be best to hold your glass on a flat surface. Once you’ve given your wine one or two good swirls, it’s time for the next step.
3. Smell the wine.
Next, smell the wine. Dip your nose in the glass and give the wine two or three lengthy sniffs. According to LiveScience, researchers say that approximately 80% of the flavors we taste in food or drink come from what we smell. This means to truly experience the taste of your wine, you must smell it.
As you smell, pay attention to what aromas might be present within the wine. Wine aromas result from three main factors: the grape variety in the wine, the vineyard location and the winemaking process. For reference, consider aromas from popular foods you enjoy. Some major wine categories include fruit and floral, spice and vegetable or oak. For an added bonus, download an aroma wheel like this one to give you a scope of possible smells.
4. Sip the wine.
Then, give the wine a sip. Fill your mouth about halfway full, then subtly swish the wine around. Don’t swallow right away, but let the wine sit on top of your tongue as you breathe through it. Moving the wine around coats your mouth and taste buds, and releases any extra aromas or flavors.
Various areas of your tongue can taste different things; for instance, the tip recognizes sweetness, the inner sides identifies sour, the outer sides taste saltiness and the back of your tongue acknowledges bitterness. Roll the wine around in your mouth, then evaluate the taste. Consider the following flavor characteristics: body, acidity, tannin, sweetness and fruitiness. Make note of any aromas or flavors you experience.
5. Swallow the wine.
Finally, the time has come to swallow. Tilt your head back and let the wine slowly run down your throat. After swallowing, notice the aftertaste, or finish, of the wine. The better the wine, the more defined its finish will be. A strong finish will linger longer on your palate, with sweet hints of the wine flavor remaining.
During this final phase, evaluate the overall experience of the wine. Did you like it? Why or why not? What impression did the wine leave? What food would you pair with it? Write down what you liked or didn’t like to define your favorites as you move forward.
To clean your palate post-wine tasting, eat a plain cracker or drink water to rinse. Then, move on to your next glass! Keep these tips in mind as you explore the world of alcoholic or non-alcoholic wine, and you will soon be on your way to becoming an expert sommelier.