Roughly five years ago my knowledge of wine consisted basically of differentiating between red, white, and rosé. Never could I have imagined that I would fall in love with tasting different wines all over the world, learning about pairings, and finding an appreciation for all the different tastes. Going to my first wine tasting at a nice estate in Bordeaux seemed quite overwhelming at the time. This post shall serve as a quick and easy-to-understand beginner’s guide to wine tasting, so your first tasting will be more of a success than mine has been back then.
First things first: what is wine?
Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented (wine) grapes. There are thousands of different varieties of grapevine. But not only the variety of the grape but also the country it grows in can influence the taste of the wine. A very important thing to know is the differentiation of the term single-varietal wine vs wine blend. While the single-varietal wine consists of only (or mostly) one variety of wines, the wine blend features a variety of different wines.
A bottle of wine contains roughly five glasses (150 ml) of wine. The biggest ingredient is water, followed by a small percentage of alcohol. Lastly, you can find other ingredients like Acids, Sulfites, Minerals, Phenols, Glycerol, etc in a bottle of wine.
How to differentiate between the wines?
There are (commonly) five main traits by which wines can be characterized: Sweetness, Acidity, Alcohol, Body, and Tannin. The term Body concerns the intensity of the wine and describes the levels from lightest to richest. The Sweetness of wine is also known as the residual sugar of the unfermented grapes at the end of the fermentation. The bitter-tasting Tannins are naturally occurring polyphenols found in the grapes as well as in the wooden barrels. The Acidity of wines can best be described as the part that gives the wine a sour taste. Lastly, Alcohol describes how much ethanol can be found in the wine.
How to taste the wine?
The basic steps of tasting wine are to Look, Smell, Taste, and Think. Before drinking the wine make sure that the wine has had the appropriate time to breathe.
After pouring the wine into the glass make sure to only touch the glass by the stem. Otherwise, you risk warming up the wine and distorting the flavor. Try to observe the hue, the intensity, and the viscosity of the wine while swirling the glass a bit, ideally before a white or neutral background.
Secondly, smell your wine. Take a sniff and try to identify flavors such as fruit, floral scents, earthy scents, and spices. Finally, take a sip and pass it all over your palate, exposing it to all of your taste buds.
Try to identify initial flavors, the structure of the wine, and the overall balance. You may swallow the wine or spit it out. While I think spitting it out is a waste of good wine, it does help to keep sober when you are planning on tasting many different wines in one setting. Lastly, take notes of what you tasted, how you liked it, what you saw, and what you smelled.
To learn more about what glasses to use and some other useful tips head over to wackywinegirl’s Wine Tasting for Beginners.
With keeping these simple and useful guides in mind I am sure your first wine tasting will be quite the success. The beauty of wine tasting does not only lie in the tasting itself but rather in the whole experience.
Try getting a tour of the winery before or after your tasting. Try to learn about the wine-making process or pick a winery that offers the tasting in a beautiful location. I can especially recommend picking a winery that serves special regional snacks that are paired perfectly with the wines alongside the tasting.