5 steps to perfect your wine tasting skills
Have you seen people taste wine and do some very peculiar things like shove their nose inside a glass or gargle like it’s some mouthwash and thought to yourself ‘what on earth are these pompous people doing’?
You’re probable not alone, but their is some method into this madness and we will look at the 5 things you need to do in order to taste wine like a pro!
Before we get into that, let’s discuss the reasons why you ‘taste’ wine. The main thing you need to remember is that you’re tasting it and not drinking it, that’s very hard to remember when you have some aged Bordeaux in front of you!
When tasting wine, you are trying to do so in a way that allows you a comparison to the other wines of the world in order to form an assessment of its style and quality; you’re also trying to gather as much information about the wine as possible so that, if you’re working in the hospitality / wine industry, you can describe the characteristics to someone who hasn’t tried it before.
When you are experienced at wine tasting, you may even be able to tell which grape/s made the wine. Which country it was from and some of the winemaking techniques used to make the wine, at this point you will be able to really explain where the wine lays on the spectrum of quality...
So here are the 5 easy steps to help you with tasting like an awesome pro...
I know it sounds boring and a bit of a cliche, but preparation is the key to wine tasting. Preparing the environment and you, the taster.
Preparing the environment is simple; make sure you have some wine,
Good natural lighting and have a blank piece of white paper so you can assess the appearance, odour free (so no strong scents of cooking or candles), spittoons or a glass to spit the wine into and of course, clean wine glasses (ISO glasses are ideal but if you’re at home, the nearest one you have, but use the same ones each time).
Preparing yourself is also pretty easy too! Make sure you have a clean palate (free from strong foods, toothpaste or smoke), ensure you’ve had plenty of water beforehand (if you’re tasting lots of wine, you can get a bit dehydrated if you’re spitting it all out), you might want some blank paper to make some notes or you can use the WSET app to record your tasting note if you’re working at Level 2 standards.
You should use approx 5cl of wine for each tasting, but the main thing is to use the same amount each time for every wine to make it a fair observation.
Here is where you need the blank piece of white paper and the good lighting.
First quick observation is that most wines are clear and that’s fine, but some may be hazy, which could indicate a fault.
Next is to assess the intensity
White - tilt the glass to 45 degrees and if the edge is very watery, you can call it pale. If the pigment is right to the edge,
You’d call it deep and if it was somewhere in the middle, you’d probably call it medium
Red - I tend to hold the glass on the table and look downwards through the wine to see if I can see the stem of the glass or not in addition to holding the glass at 45 degrees. If I can very easily see the stem of the glass, it’s going to be pale. If I can’t see the stem at all, I will call it deep. Otherwise, it will be a medium.
And then I will assess the colour itself
White - on a range from a lemony green to a lemon, gold, amber or a brown colour
Rose - a pink, salmon or orange colour
Red - a purple, ruby, garnet, tawny or a brown colour
Assessing the appearance can give you a head start on what you might expect on the nose and the palate.
E.g youthful wines tend to be lemon (white) or a ruby (red), whereas aged wines that have more than likely had contact with oxygen will be moving through the scale, depending on how long it has been aged for...
With red wine particularly the intensity will give you lots of clues too E.G a pale intensity might make me think more toward Pinot Noir (thin skinned grape), whereas Cabernet Sauvignon has thick skins with lots of colour and will therefore be deeper in colour.
So let’s move on to step 3 now.
For me, the best part of wine tasting takes place on the nose. For some inexperienced wine taster, most wine with smell mostly the same. But with practice you will be able to get a sense of complexity or purity and in some cases be able to tell which grape variety is used, which country it is from, and in some cases which year it was made... almost like a yoda type guru!
So what to look out for....
Firstly, the condition... does it smell like it should.... anything like wet cardboard, vinegar can be big giveaways to wine faults.... but there are less
Subtle things that may not be faults but can tell you about the winemaking practices - EG low levels of rotten eggs, boiled cabbage (can be attractive in a wine), this can indicate the wine has gone through reductive winemaking (without the use of oxygen). Or it may smell like nail polish, which is a result of acetic acid.. in low levels this can give the wine more complexity.
Now you can give the wine glass a good swirl around, let people around know that you know what you’re doing!
And now for the main things to look out for is the intensity
Does it jump out the glass at you or do you have to go searching inside the glass for any type of aromas?
And what type of aromas are you getting? Is it mainly fruit, are you getting floral, stone fruits, tropical fruits, cooked fruits, anything herbaceous or herbal, toasty ness, butter, cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutty, leather, Mushroom.... to name a few.
Generally speaking, the more you have, the more compex it is and more likely to be a higher quality wine (although simple pure expressive fruits may be what the winemaking is going for).
If you think about where this wine may be from... think about what fruits do you smell and what climate would you find them in?? E.G if you smell mango in your wine, would that fruit be grown in Germany? Probably not.... so if you smell mango in your wine, you could probably start to narrow down where this wine may be from...
Vanilla aromas generally come from oak, so you could tell whether the wine has been made or aged in oak
The nose generally gives you a huge indication to the wine itself...
We then move on to the palate
Of course, most of us enjoy the taste of wine and therefore, we will want to spend a bit of time at this section. There are a number of things to consider here, so I’ll bullet point them with a description next to each one for ease.
Sweetness - a dry wine means that all of the sugars in the grape has been fermented. A sweet wine has lots is sugar in the wine after it has been fermented check out our article on fermentation otherwise it is somewhere in the middle.
Acidity - acid is in the grapes (tartaric and malic or lactic). If the wine has high acidity, you will feel you mouth salavate, just like when you eat those sour candy! It may give you a tingling sensation in the side of your mouth... generally acid levels drop as in warmer climates, this could give you a clue to where the wine is from too...
Tannin - this is present in the grape skins, so you won’t get any tannin in white wine as it is fermented without the skins, but you will get it in red wine... tannin gives you a drying grippy feeling across your mouth. So if you get lots of grippyness it’s probably from a red grape that has thick skin and deeply coloured (you can then discount Pinot noir, Gamay or Grenache)
Alcohol - alcohol is made from yeast converting sugar... therefore the more sugar you have in the grape, the imhigher alcohol you can achieve. Sugar in the grape is accumulated during the summer season from heat and sunshine... therefore, the north of France where the climate is not too hot will only produce a low-medium alcohol, whereas California, South Africa and Australia you can get a much higher level of alcohol in your wine
Body - this is a feel in the mouth based on the combination of the other stuff... Alcohol, sweetness and tannin increases body, whereas acidity reduced body (think about skimmed, semi-skimmed and full fat milk)
Finish - this is about the length of time the attractive aromas stick around. The longer they are around, generally, the better the wine
Aromas - and lastly, do you get the same aromas in the palate as you do with the nose? Mostly yes, but occasionally the change of temperature can bring out more aromas....
Finally we are then onto step 5.
Really..... is it any good or not!
You are judging the wine (objectively) on the quality of the wine, it if you like it or not...
Balance - does the wine feel balanced. Is the alcohol in balance with the acidity, and are they balanced with the aromas etc....
Length - as you have assessed in the palate, if the flavours stick around it indicates quality
Flavour intensity and characteristics - do the aromas come through as you’d expect. Does it show relevant complexity / purity? Do you have to search for them or do they jump out to you.
Complexity - do you get just one aromas or a small handful or aromas or does you mouth and nose explode!
Your then going to assess it as outstanding (4 out of 4), very good (3 out of 4), good (2 out of 4), acceptable (1 out of 4 which is more than likely going to be balance) or even poor if you can’t even attribute a point to balance!
Want to learn more, come join into one of our WSET courses, or we can host some private tastings for you and your friends/family during our come dine with me...