We all know how to drink wine but tasting it properly is a whole different ball game. Whether you are blind tasting or simply trying to understand what is in your glass, it is important to learn how to taste correctly. Since white and red wine are completely different animals, we will focus on white wine in this post.
The first step is to look at what is in your glass. Besides figuring out the obvious, if it’s red or white, decide its coloring. The best way to do this is by tipping your glass slightly so you can see the color in the light. Darker colored whites are typically from a warmer climate, older in age or aged in oak barrels. Lighter colored whites indicate cooler climates, younger grapes, and steel barrels. Also, determine its hue (green, silver, orange). Next you want to inspect the viscosity, or legs, to figure out the alcohol content. You can do this by twirling your glass and seeing how it moves down the side. The stronger the legs the higher the alcohol. In some whites, you may see the presence of gas.
Looks can sometimes be deceiving but the smell can tell you almost everything you need to know about a wine. To smell the wine you need to, again, twirl your glass and stick your nose right inside the top of the rim. Before anything make sure your wine hasn’t gone bad. If it smells like vinegar or has a musty odor then dump it out. If your wine is good, continue. Start by smelling for fruit and floral notes. Fruits can be described as malic, citric, stone, and tropical fruits or melon. Next, smell for earth and mineral notes. These can be organic or inorganic and range from mushrooms and soil to limestone and petrol. The last step in the smelling process is to decide how the wine was aged. If it was aged in an oak barrel, you will come across notes of wood and spices.
Finally, it is time to taste! Even though the nose has the power to pick up essential characteristics of the wine there are many things you can’t tell by just smelling it. Taste can provide you with two elements, structure and flavor. The structure is determined by a wines sweetness, acidity, and body. The flavor can either enhance what you smelled or realize new characters that you were unable to pick up on the nose. Taste also has the most complexity. Sometimes the taste changes from when the wine first touches your mouth to how it finishes. Make sure to let the wine sit on your tongue for a moment so you can really notice the structure and flavor.
It is important to fully observe everything you see, smell, and taste before making a conclusion about a wine. Sometimes, your impression of a wine can change when you realize its complexities. Understanding how to define the characteristics of a wine is not only useful during a tasting but also when you are ordering. Ultimately, you can figure out the varietal, where it’s from, and the vintage just from tasting.