When it comes to tasting wine there is a lot of finesse and etiquette involved, but this is no reason to be intimidated and run away! Tasting wine is where all the fun begins. Smelling, sipping, tasting, and drinking! The etiquette in wine tasting exists because taste is entirely influenced by smell. Wine has so much to offer our taste buds, so in order to get the whole experience a short ritual must first occurrence.
1. Color – Take a look. View the wine, examine its color. Each varietal will show similar variances of color so this will be your first clue in determining the right grape. For a sommelier or avid wine junkie, this step can paint a larger picture about the varietal, region, and age of the wine in question while even prepare the participant for what to expect. As an amateur however take a mental picture, admire the beauty the wine beholds and prepare to taste!
2. Swirl – I am quite sure you have seen diners swirling their glasses of wine at least somewhere once. This step is integral to the art of smelling as swirling acts as a catalyst in releasing the wine's bouquet. A bouquet reflects to the overall smell of the wine, and is also known as "the nose". After a bottle is opened and distributed it requires oxygen in order to develop into the treasure it was meant to be. Swirling encourages aeration, allowing more oxygen to get into the wine and release the bouquet. So get swirling!
3. Smell – This step is critical in tasting wine as our sense of taste is good, however our sense of smell is much better, in fact on average a person can smell over 2000 various scents! What we smell also affects what we taste so it is important to take the time to smell the wine before you taste. You will begin to notice many different scents that may be hard to differentiate at first. Try opening a few different bottles of white varietals or red varietals and smell each. Notice the differences between them. Does it smell like a particular fruit or spice? Does is smell burnt or like tar? Maybe it smells woody or nutty? By practicing you will be better able to determine different characteristics in the wine and of course be able to determine the varietal right away.
The last and equally important part about smelling wine is to identify whether the wine is "off" or in other words bad. Wine, like most everything, is not perfect all of the time. A nose that reflects the dank smell of a moldy cellar is a sure sign of a "corked wine". This is the most common fault found in wine caused by a contaminant called TCA which is found mostly in corks but can also remain in wood barrels, walls, and beams. Unfortunately this ugly little impurity can cause a lot of damage. So use your senses to detect corked wine, and take your damaged bottle back to where you bought it for a refund!
4. Taste – This is not a cue for drinking! This simply means to take a sip and hold it on the palate for at least a few moments. We have thousands of taste buds all over the mouth so it makes sense to allow the wine to find almost all of them! Move the wine all around the mouth so that it reaches your checks and throat. Notice how your taste buds react to the substance. While tasting the wine, consider the following to help determine characteristics.
Sour / Tart: This is determined at the edges of the tongue and back of throat usually signaling acidity.
Sweet: You will experience this taste immediately if there is any residual sugar in the wine as sweetness is determined on the tip of the tongue.
Bitter: This taste is determined at the back of the tongue.
Weight: Felt in the middle of the tongue and around the gums. Light or full?
Tannin: Very astringent sensation felt through the mouth especially the gums and teeth. It often coats the taste buds making fruit difficult to detect.
Whether you decide to swallow or spit out your taster, be sure to take a little time to review your experience with this wine. Really process the journey in order to secure its' story into your mental records. Ask yourself a few questions and take some tasting notes if you like: What did this wine show you? Did you enjoy it? What did you like / dislike about it? Was it well balanced? A well balanced wine is not too much of any one taste, flavor, or sensation; it's just right!
It is also wise to pay attention to how long its' presence lasts in your mouth. This is known as the length of the wine. A great wine can last for several minutes!
Like any sport or hobby, practice makes perfect; the more you taste the more knowledge you'll gain on this quenching subject.