Are you looking to expand your wine tasting experience? In this article, we will embark on an educational adventure exploring wine tasting skills to help you appreciate the effort that goes into every delicious drop. Originally featured on our Instagram page (@singlefilewine) over a series of weeks earlier this year, we have put together this guide to help you expand your knowledge of the wine tasting process. Guided by our wonderful Cellar Door staff, with some help and tips from Wine Folly, we hope you enjoy learning about getting the very best out of your wine!
Before we even taste the wine, we choose a good quality glass. Wine glasses range in size, suit different types of wine and can impact the taste on our palate. A general rule is to have a large enough bowl to capture the aromas, and not fill the glass to the brim. Flutes are used for sparkling wine to preserve bubbles. White wine is typically served in smaller glasses to keep them colder for longer, and glasses with wider bowls help to enhance aroma, perfect for heavier whites and most reds.
We prefer to hold the glass by the stem to avoid clouding the bowl with fingerprints so that you can admire the beautiful colour of the wine. It also prevents warming the wine with your hands. An exception to the rule is to intentionally warm up a glass of medium bodied white wine that has been served too cold, but with the bowl cupped by your palms.
Glasses at the ready, it’s time to choose a bottle to enjoy! There is no ‘correct’ way to pour your wine, with the exception of sparkling, where you should tilt the bottle and the glass to ease the bubbles into the vessel. Remember not to fill the glass more than halfway to the top.
Part 1: Look
Tasting your wine starts before you take a sip, as you look at the wine and observe its colour in the glass. In front of a plain, white or light-coloured background, look at the hue and the intensity of the colour. The wine’s colour can give you clues about the grape variety, weight, and age. Typically, white wine will become darker and red wine will look lighter as they age.
White wines that have seen time in oak will be a darker hue because oxygen has slowly been introduced, unlike wines made in stainless steel that is sealed shut. Red wine that has more of a purple or blue hue will have lower acidity.
You can also look at the wine’s viscosity. While holding the stem, give the glass a swirl. Observe the droplets of wine which run back down the glass, commonly called the ‘legs’ or ‘tears’. The more ‘legs’ you see and the slower that stream flows, the higher the alcohol content.
Once you have taken the time to look at what is in your glass, you’re ready to explore the wine’s aroma.
Part 2: Smell
Have you ever noticed that everything tastes bland when you have a stuffy nose? This is because our senses of smell and taste are entwined, and our perception of flavour comes from the interaction of taste (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) and aroma. Smell allows us to identify key aromas, adding so much flavour to the wine we taste.
Give the glass a swirl to release aromas. Tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle, place your nose slightly inside the rim of the glass and take a short but intentional sniff. Really focus on the wine, closing your eyes to concentrate. What can you smell? What type of fruit, herbs or oak are present? Take a few inhalations to try and pinpoint two or three flavours.
Having an aroma wheel handy can be helpful as a guide when it is hard to identify an aroma by name. There are no right or wrong answers, just an experiment to consciously exercise your sense of smell.
Here, we can also identify wine faults. If there is an unpleasant smell, it’s very possible the wine is ‘off', typically caused by improper storage. Wine should be stored in a cool dark place or in a wine fridge between 12-15 degrees celsius. If you do not have a cellar, it is generally best to consume the wine within two years as opposed to being stored in a variable temperature environment.
Part 3: Taste
Wine glass at the ready, take a medium size sip, enough to swish and ‘chew’ the wine around your mouth. Swallow (or spit) the mouthful and take a slow breath in and out. Our taste buds will pick up on a lot of flavours, but some characteristics stand out more than others. These are sweetness, acidity, tannins and body, and will vary depending on the type of wine you are drinking.
Ask yourself these four questions: Is the wine dry or sweet? How tart is it? Is it bitter? Is it mouth-filling?
These are good general questions for you to reflect on when tasting a wine; remembering that tasting is very subjective! We all experience flavours differently and have unique preferences. Practicing tasting will help you write your own tasting notes and identify flavour profiles and styles.
Part 4: Reflect
When we taste wine, we actively identify the complexities that make wine so unique and enjoyable. Tasting notes can be developed by actively practicing the wine tasting process we have explored above.
As you work through each step of the process (look, smell and taste), really focus on tasting with no distractions. Remember that tasting wine is subjective, with no wrong answers – concentrate on your perceptions of the wine without worrying about anyone else’s opinion. Taking 30 seconds to jot down your thoughts about the wines you taste will help you to remember them and create your own tasting notes to reference in the future.
We taste wine to develop our palate and discover what we like and dislike. Using this guide will help you to hone in on which grape varieties, regions and specific vineyards you enjoy. We hope this article has brought a newfound appreciation for using all of your senses when tasting and enjoying wine.