Wine tasting may seem like a silly exercise to some, but did you know that just about every major wine company, alongside many restaurants, hotels and bars, hire wine experts (Sommeliers) specifically to taste for wine quality.
This is understandably an incredibly important task within the wine companies themselves as much of a wine companies reputation, credibility and indeed revenue would hinge on this process.
Wine tasting, in Layman's terms, is simply the act of evaluating wine's quality, flavour, aroma, and texture by sipping and swirling it in the mouth.
The goal is to judge the wine's unique qualities and make a subjective evaluation of its quality and enjoyment.
Wine tasting can seem like an intimidating and complex task, however it really doesn’t have to be.
This guide is designed to introduce beginners to the world of wine tasting and provide a solid overview of the many benefits that come with learning about this fascinating topic.
Whether you’re looking to expand your palate, immerse yourself in new cultures, or simply enjoy a fun social activity, wine tasting is the perfect place to start.
In this article, we’ll be diving a little deeper into the basics of wine tasting, the associated benefits that come with exploring this rich and diverse wine tasting field, how experts taste wines, outlining some terminology of wine tasting and some tips to perform wine tasting more effectively from the comfort of your own home.
So, whether you’re a complete novice or simply looking to refresh your knowledge, this guide is the perfect place to start your wine tasting journey.
10 reasons why you may want to learn wine tasting skills.
Here are the top 10 reasons to learn wine tasting techniques:
- Enhance Your Palate: By learning a variety of wine tasting techniques, naturally you'll be able to appreciate the subtle nuances and flavours in each glass of wine. This, in turn, will enhance your palate and make your wine drinking experience even more enjoyable.
- Become an Expert: As you continue to taste and learn about different wines, you'll advance to become a wine expert and will be able to impress your friends and family with your extensive knowledge and abilities.
- Appreciate Wine on a Deeper Level: Wine tasting can help you to understand the history, culture, and production methods behind each glass of wine. This knowledge will allow you to appreciate wine on a deeper level.
- Make Better Wine Selections: With an advanced skill set in wine tasting techniques, you'll be able to select wines that you know you'll enjoy based on the flavours and aromas you identify and your ability to better pair these with the foods you enjoy.
- Save Money: Wine tasting techniques can help you identify the best value for money wines. This can save you money in the long run as you'll be able to select cheaper wines that still have great flavour and quality… now that’s an asset we can get behind.
- Improve Your Health: Wine in moderation has been shown to have numerous health benefits. By learning about wine, you'll be able to select wines that have the health benefits you're looking for and indeed better educate your loved ones on this core aspect of wine.
- Network with Wine Lovers: Wine tasting events are a great way to meet other wine lovers and make new friends. In fact wine in general has very much made its stamp in history as a sociable drink. You can also share your knowledge and learn from others.
- Make Wine Tasting a Fun Hobby: Wine tasting is a fun and enjoyable hobby that you can enjoy alone or with friends. As you learn more, you'll be able to appreciate wine further and introduce others to the many skills learnt as you go.
- Better Wine and Food Pairing: Wine tasting skills can help you identify which wines pair well with different foods. This will ultimately make your mealtime experience far more enjoyable as you'll be able to select the perfect wine for your meal.
Enhance Your Career Opportunities: If you're in the wine industry or considering a career in this field, learning wine tasting skills will be a valuable asset.
It will enhance your credibility and provide you with an advanced understanding of the wine industry.
The Sensory Evaluation of Wine
A glass of wine can be much more than just a drink; it should be an experience for the senses. Wine tasting is the process of evaluating the various characteristics of a wine, including its appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel.
To truly appreciate a good wine, it is essential to understand how each of the five senses play a key role in the wine tasting experience.
Introduction to the Five Senses Used in Wine Tasting
When tasting wine, the five senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing are all used to evaluate the wine's various characteristics. Here are the five senses used in wine tasting:
- Sight - Observing the wine's colour, clarity, and ‘legs’ can give you an idea of the wine's age and condition.
- Smell - The detection of wine aromas and bouquet can give you a better idea of the wine's composition, quality and any key ingredients.
- Taste - Perceiving the wine's sweetness, acidity, and bitterness can give you an idea of the wine's balance and overall flavour profile.
- Touch - The sensation of the wine body and tannins can give you an idea of the wine's structure and texture.
- Hearing - Even the sound of wine being poured into a glass plays its part as this can give you an idea of the wine's viscosity and body.
How the Five Senses Affect Wine Tasting
Each of the five senses has a distinct and very crucial impact on the wine tasting experience. We’ve broken this down below.
- Sight: Observing the wine's colour, clarity, and legs can give you an idea of the wine's age and condition. A wine's colour can range from deep red to pale yellow (subject to the wine of course), and its clarity can range from hazy to crystal clear. The legs, or "tears," that form on the inside of the glass after swirling the wine can also provide information about the wine's alcohol content and viscosity.
- Smell: The detection of wine aromas and bouquet, will give you an idea and indiciation of the wine's composition and quality. A wine's aroma can range from fruity to earthy, and its bouquet can often develop as it ages. By taking a good sniff of the wine, you can get a good sense of the wine's primary and secondary aromas.
- Taste: Perceiving the wine's sweetness, acidity, and bitterness can give a really good overview of the wine's balance and general flavour profile. A wine's sweetness can be categorised from dry to sweet, and its acidity can range from crisp to tart. The bitterness of a wine can also play a role in its overall flavour profile.
- Touch: The sensation of wine body and tannins can give you an idea of the wine's structure and texture. A wine's body can range from light to full, and its tannins can range from soft to astringent. By feeling the wine in your mouth, you can get a sense of its overall mouthfeel.
- Hearing: The sound of wine being poured into a glass can give you an idea of the wine's viscosity and body. A wine with high viscosity will make a thicker, more pronounced sound as it is poured, while a wine with low viscosity will make a thinner, less pronounced sound.
By paying close attention to the various characteristics of wine, you can truly begin to understand the different factors that affect a wine’s quality.
Understanding the different elements that contribute to a wine's appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel can help you make informed decisions about which wines you like and why.
Common Wine Tasting Terminology
Knowing the meaning and how to describe bouquet, body, tannins, acidity, sweetness, bitterness, and finish, will greatly enhance your wine tasting experience and help you to better appreciate the subtleties of an individual wine.
Let’s take a look below and learn a little more about some common terms that are often used in the world of wine tasting.
- Bouquet: Bouquet refers to the wine's aroma or scent, often described as the "nose" of the wine. The bouquet can be a result of the wine's grape variety, the winemaking process and indeed the wine's ageing.
- Body: Body refers to the wine's weight or mouthfeel, it can be light, medium or full-bodied. Body is determined by the wine's alcohol and sugar content, as well as its tannin levels.
- Tannins: Tannins are compounds found in wine that come from the grape skins, seeds, and stems. They give wine a bitter, astringent taste, and contribute to its overall structure and ageing potential.
- Acidity: Acidity is an essential component of wine that contributes to its freshness, crispness and overall balance. High acidity makes a wine tart or tangy, while low acidity makes a wine flabby or flat.
- Sweetness: Refers to the amount of residual sugar present in the wine. Wine can range from completely dry to very sweet and this can often be determined by the variety of grapes used or the specific process of fermentation.
- Bitterness: Bitterness is a taste sensation that can be caused by the wine’s tannins, alcohol level or a combination of both. It is a characteristic of some red wines and can be balanced by the wine's sweetness.
- Finish: Finish refers to the aftertaste of a wine, how the flavour lingers in the mouth after swallowing. A long finish indicates that the wine has a good balance of acidity, tannins, and flavour. A short finish means the wine has limited flavour and might be lacking in structure.
Wine Tasting Techniques
Wine tasting is often considered an art and is widely respected as a skill set that requires knowledge, experience, and a fine attention to detail.
There are many different methods that wine tasters use to evaluate wine and subject to the preference of each wine taster, the way the process is followed will determine how a wine is taste tested.
So, let’s explore some of the most popular methods below.
The Traditional "Swirl, Sniff, and Sip" Technique
The Traditional "Swirl, Sniff, and Sip" technique is a timeless classic and a somewhat veteran approach to wine tasting.
It involves three simple steps to fully appreciate the flavours, aromas and textures of wine. To perform this method, the following steps should be taken:
- Swirling the wine in the glass - this releases the wine's aromas and makes it easier to detect its bouquet and flavours.
- Sniffing the wine - which then allows you to identify the wine's various scents and aromas, which can help you determine its different tastes.
- Sipping the wine - a.k.a ‘the best bit’ - this then gives you the chance to fully taste the wine, noticing its sweetness, acidity and bitterness, as well as its body and tannins.
By following these three simple steps, you stand to gain a greater understanding of the wine you’re tasting and can begin to appreciate its unique qualities to the fullest.
The Blind Tasting Technique
Blind tasting is a method of wine tasting where the taster is unaware of the wine's identity.
This technique is used to assess a wine objectively, without any preconceptions or biases affecting the taste and can often be utilised by wine producers to receive third party or unbiased market feedback on their products.
He is the author of "A Scent of Champagne," which contains descriptions and ratings of around 8,000 different Champagnes.
Juhlin is also a consultant for many Champagne houses and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide.
To perform the blind tasting method you must first understand the main steps of the process:
- In blind tasting, the wine is poured into a plain glass or a neutral-coloured bottle, as to help hide the wines identity from even the most experienced taster.
- The taster first evaluates the wine's appearance, aroma, flavour, and mouthfeel, taking note of any distinct characteristics.
- After tasting the wine, the taster tries to identify the type of wine, its vintage, and origin based on their knowledge and experience.
- The taster then compares their guesses to the actual wine information to see how well they performed and how accurately they described the wine.
Blind tasting is a valuable method for wine enthusiasts, as it helps improve their palate, expand their knowledge and challenge their preconceptions about wine.
The Comparative Tasting Technique
The comparative tasting technique is a method of comparing different wines to one another in order to gain a better understanding of their individual qualities and how they stand up against one another.
This method is particularly useful for tasting different types of wines and identifying their unique attributes.
To implement this technique you’ll need to follow these simple steps:
- The first step in comparative tasting is to select two or more wines to taste test. These can be wines of the same type, such as two different cabernet sauvignons, or wines of different types, such as a cabernet sauvignon and a merlot.
- Once you have selected your wines, pour a small amount of each into separate glasses.
- Take the time to examine each wine individually, noticing their appearance, aroma, and flavour.
- Start by tasting the first wine and take note of its unique qualities.
- Next, move on to the second wine and repeat the tasting process (of course do this for each of the wines selected if more than two have been chosen).
- Compare each of the wines, noticing the differences in their appearance, aroma, and flavour.
This can help you achieve a deeper understanding of the individual qualities of each wine and the factors that contribute to their unique profiles.
The Food and Wine Pairing Technique
The Food and Wine Pairing method (a personal favourite of ours) involves pairing different types of wine with different types of food, to bring out the best in both.
This technique involves paying particular attention to the flavours, aromas, and textures of both the food and the wine, then choosing the wine that best complements the flavours of the food. To execute this method:
- Choose the right wine to pair with the food: When choosing a wine to pair with your food, consider the flavours and aromas of both the food and the wine in question. The wine should complement the food, rather than overpowering it, so paying close attention to the flavour profiles of each of these is crucial to find a well paired balance.
- Pay attention to the acidity and sweetness of the wine: Acidic wines are best paired with rich or spicy foods, while sweet wines are best paired with sweet or dessert-style dishes.
- Consider the intensity of the flavours: Pairing a bold and intense wine with a delicate dish can overpower the flavours of the food, while pairing a mild wine with a bold dish can make the wine seem lacklustre.
- Experiment with different pairings: Don't be afraid to try different pairings to find the combination that works best for you. Keep a food and wine pairing journal to keep track of what you like and what you don't like.
The Vertical Tasting Technique
The Vertical Tasting Technique is a method of tasting wine where multiple vintages of the same wine are tasted in a single session, usually with the aim of comparing how the wine has changed over time.
To best execute this method:
- Start by selecting a winery or producer that you are particularly interested in, then to purchase a range of vintages from the same wine.
- Pour each wine into its own glass, starting with the oldest vintage and progressing to the youngest.
- Take a moment to observe each wine's appearance, noticing any changes in colour, clarity, or legs from one vintage to the next.
- Smell each wine and take good note of the differences in aroma and bouquet.
- Finally, taste each wine, paying attention to its sweetness, acidity, and bitterness and how these have changed over time.
The Vertical Tasting Technique can be a fun and educational experience, allowing you to see how a wine has evolved over time and how different factors such as winemaking techniques, climate, and ageing have affected its character during this time.
The Horizontal Tasting Technique
The Horizontal Tasting Technique involves tasting several wines from the same vintage or year, but from different regions or wineries. This method helps you understand both the differences and similarities in the style and quality of the wines, allowing you to appreciate the unique characteristics of each wine.
To perform a horizontal tasting:
- Choose a selection of wines from the same vintage and pour a small amount of each into individual glasses.
- Start by evaluating the appearance of the wines, paying attention to their colour, clarity, and legs.
- Then, smell each wine, noting the different aromas and bouquet.
- Finally, taste each wine, paying attention to its sweetness, acidity, and bitterness, as well as its body and tannins.
By comparing the wines side-by-side, you will gain a deeper understanding of how the same vintage can produce distinct and diverse wines.
The Retro-olfaction Technique
The Retro-olfaction technique is a unique method of wine tasting that involves honing your sense of smell to analyse and identify different key wine aromas. This technique is also known as "smell-taste mapping."
Here's how you can perform the Retro-olfaction technique effectively:
- Pour a small amount of wine into a glass.
- Take a deep sniff of the wine, focusing on its aroma and bouquet.
- Swirl the wine in your mouth, paying close attention to the different flavours and aromas.
- Exhale through your nose, allowing the wine's aromas to enter your nostrils.
- Take another sniff of the wine, focusing on its aroma and bouquet.
- Repeat the process several times, making note of the different wine aromas and flavours that you detect as you may be surprised by the changes in your findings as this process is repeated.
- Compare your results to other wine aroma and flavour charts to identify the different wine aromas and flavours.
By following these simple steps, you can use the Retro-olfaction technique to fully appreciate the flavours, aromas, and textures of each wine.
The Multisensory Tasting Technique
The Multisensory Tasting Technique, as the name suggests, is a wine tasting method that involves all five of your senses, utilised to fully experience the wine and all it has to offer.
This technique is all about using your sight, smell, taste, and even touch to fully appreciate the wine.
- Sight: Observe the wine's colour, clarity, and legs.
- Smell: Take a deep sniff of the wine to detect its aromas and bouquet.
- Taste: Sip the wine to experience its sweetness, acidity, and bitterness.
The goal is to use all of your senses to create a memorable, multisensory experience.
The Non-spittable Tasting Technique.
The Non-spittable Tasting technique, as you might imagine has become a firm favourite… as this involves drinking the entire glass of wine, rather than just sipping and spitting it out.
This technique of wine tasting also allows you to fully experience the wine's flavours, aromas, and textures but arguably in greater detail as more attention is given to each individual wine.
Here's how you can perform the Non-spittable Tasting technique effectively:
- Pour yourself a glass of wine, ensuring that the wine fills the glass to about one-third to one-half full.
- Hold the glass up to the light and observe its colour, which can give you some indication of the wine's age and quality.
- Take a good sniff of the wine to detect its aromas and bouquet.
- Take a sip of the wine and hold it in your mouth for a few seconds, allowing the wine to fully interact with your taste buds.
- Swallow the wine and pay attention to its aftertaste, which can provide further insight into the wine's flavours and quality.
Repeat the process, taking another sip of wine, until you have finished the entire glass.
By drinking the entire glass of wine, it is believed that you will have a more complete understanding of the wine's textures, aromas, and flavour profile.
Additionally, the Non-spittable Tasting technique is a good way to fully enjoy and appreciate a special bottle of wine that you might not otherwise drink.
Tips to perform wine tasting more effectively
Here are some recommendations to help you take your wine tasting skills to the next level.
- Swirl: Hold the wine glass by its stem and gently swirl the wine to release its aroma. This helps to aerate the wine, which can enhance its bouquet.
- Sniff: After swirling the wine, put your nose close to the glass and take a deep sniff to detect the wine's aroma and bouquet.
- Sip: Finally, the best bits… take a small sip of the wine and let it sit on your tongue for a few seconds to fully experience its flavour, sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. Pay attention to the wine's body and tannins, which you can feel in your mouth.
- A proper wine glass: A suitable wine glass is designed to help you get the most out of your wine. The shape and size of the glass can affect the wine's aroma, flavour, and overall enjoyment. A wine glass that is too small or too narrow can limit the release of the wine's aromas, while a wine glass that is too large can dilute the wine's flavour.
- Recommended wine glass types: For red wine, a glass with a wider bowl and narrower rim is recommended, as this will help to concentrate the wine's aromas. For white wine, a glass with a narrower bowl and wider rim is best, as this will help to preserve the wine's crisp, fresh flavour. For sparkling wine, a flute is recommended, as this will help to retain the wine's bubbles and aroma.
- When to taste wine: When tasting wine, it's recommended to start with the lightest wine and move on to the fullest-bodied. This allows you to appreciate each wine's unique qualities without your palate becoming overwhelmed.
- Final word: To fully enjoy wine tasting, it's important to pay attention to the wine's colour, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel. It's also a good idea to take small sips and to drink plenty of water in between tastings. This will help to cleanse your palate, allowing you to fully appreciate each wine's unique qualities.
By using this traditional wine tasting technique, you'll be able to fully appreciate the different aspects of the wine and enhance your overall wine tasting experience.
Tips to improve your wine tasting vocabulary
Developing your wine tasting vocabulary is an important aspect of appreciating wine. By truly understanding the various terminology used to describe wine, you can better appreciate the process and better articulate this to others who enjoy wine.
- Attend wine tastings and events to broaden your exposure to different wines and tasting terminology.
- Keep a wine tasting journal to jot down tasting notes and descriptions.
- Taste a variety of wine styles and grape varieties to expand your understanding of wine in general.
- Try to taste wine with people who have a good wine vocabulary and ask questions to learn from them.
- Read books and articles about wine tasting to learn about the science and art of wine making.
- Explore wine regions to taste the local wines and understand the impact of terroir on wine.
- Use wine-tasting apps or online resources to learn about wine, including its regions, styles, and tasting notes.
In conclusion, wine tasting is a skill that can be learned and indeed improved with practice (which we certainly have no problems with).
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced taster, understanding various wine tasting techniques and tips, such as the traditional "Swirl, Sniff, and Sip" method or the comparative tasting technique, can greatly enhance your wine tasting experience and broaden your knowledge of the world of wine.
By learning about wine tasting terminology, such as bouquet, tannins, and finish, you can better describe and appreciate the flavours and aromas of wine.
In doing so you will also deepen your appreciation for wine and enhance your enjoyment of wine in a variety of settings.
By exploring the world of wine tasting, you can develop a deeper appreciation for wine and the effort that goes into making it.
So, whether you are just starting out or looking to improve your skills, take the time to learn about wine tasting, and enjoy all the benefits it has to offer.
There is always room for improvement and growth in your wine knowledge. So keep practising your wine tasting skills...we know we will.