Wine tasting 101 :: everything you need to know


I was so nervous to go wine tasting for the first time.  I was sure that I’d embarrass myself by showing my inexperience in the tasting room.  After all, wine terminology can be intimidating.  Varietal sounds a lot like vintage.  What exactly is a bouquet?  And I sure didn’t sign up to put anything on my nose, thankyouverymuch.

Relax.  Wine tasting should be fun–and it is when you keep these five simple things in mind.

  1. Swirl.  I know that it seems kind of like a fancy, showy thing to do, but it really isn’t.  Gently swirling the wine in the glass aerates it and intensifies its bouquet (or aromas).
  2. Sniff.  Once you’ve swirled the wine, go ahead and see what scents you can pick up on the nose.  Do this by hovering over the glass.  Take several quick sniffs and then pull back and let it all process.  Can’t identify any particular aromas?  Try this: place your palm over the glass and swirl again.  Trapping the air inside the glass intensifies the bouquet and might make it easier for you to place prominent scents.
  3. Sip. Take a small sip by sucking just a hint of wine into your mouth as if it had ice cubes in it and you were trying to drink the wine without taking an ice cube into your mouth.  Sipping that way will further aerate the wine.  Once you’ve got the wine in your mouth, let it linger.  You want to allow your tongue the chance to pick up as many flavors as possible.
  4. Evaluate.  Discuss the wine with your companion(s).  You really don’t have to wait until after you’ve sipped the wine to discuss it; Jeff and I like to discuss the bouquet of the wines we drink long before it ever touches our tips of our tongues.  If it’s a chardonnay, you’ll probably be able to discern hints of butter and oak.  Our favorite Sauvignon blancs are crisp and fruity with tropical notes.  We love a good peppery Pinot Noir or the depths of flavor in Old Vine Zinfandels.  It might take some time, but eventually you will be able to discern and discuss tasting notes.
  5. Etiquette.  Wine tasting is a casual event and should not be intimidating.  Still, there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • You won’t hurt anybody’s feelings if you utilize the spittoon to discard a wine you don’t care for. 
  • Usually, there is no need to rinse your glass between tastes; you don’t want to water down your wine.  The exception is if you want to revisit a white after tasting a red.  In that case, use the water the winery provides to swirl in your glass and then dump it into the spittoon.  Don’t ever–under any circumstances–drink the water.  It’s meant strictly for rinsing.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  The tasting room attendant is likely a wealth of knowledge and he or she won’t think poorly of you for being curious.  If he {or she} is, I recommend going to another tasting room.  Just because one can be a wine snob doesn’t mean one should.

Now that you have the confidence you need to go forth and taste, all that is left to do is make plans with some wine-curious companions and head out.  If you’re not fortunate enough to live near a wine region, you can stop by your local World Market, Trader Joe’s or Total Wine; most locations do free tastings and you might be surprised how fun they make it.  Cheers!

Do you have any tips or tricks that you would add?

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