Start with a clear wine glass. The rim of the glass should bend inwards to help funnel aromas to the nose, and allow you to swirl without spilling.
Now pour a little wine into your glass. An inch or less is best. If you are tasting several wines, begin with the lightest (sparkling wines, roses, then light whites followed by full-bodied whites) and progress to the heaviest (light reds to more full-bodied reds followed by dessert wines). This will help keep your taste buds more sensitive so you can better appreciate each wine in the series. A sip of water between wines can also help preserve your palate.
Notice the color of the wine.It often helps to hold the glass up to light or hold it against a white background, like a white napkin. Color can give you a clue as to the age of the wine. White wines generally gain color as they age. Red wines lose color. That is, young ed wines are more red or burgundy while older wines tend to show a hint of tawny brown around the rim. Regardless of age, the colors of wine are just fun to see, ranging from pale yellow-green to ruby red to brick red-brown.
Swirl the wine a couple of times by moving the glass in a circular motion. Holding the glass by its stem, instead of the bowl, makes this easier. Hold it in your hand or keep it on a surface, whichever is easier.
Swirling is done to aerate the wine and release vapors, evaporating from the sides of the glass for you to smell. Then put your nose right over the rim of the wine glass and breathe in. Since most of a wine’s charm is actually in its smell, rather than its taste, this is important.
Most wines have characteristic aromas of the grapes they are made from, i.e. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, etc. The more experience you gain with different wine varietals, the easier it will be to detect and identify characteristic wine aromas and bouquet. For starters, your nose will tell you if the wine is pleasing to you and you may sense hints of vanilla, berries, peaches, or even grassy or smokey aromas. Every wine is different and this is all part of the fun of wine appreciation.
Now it’s time to take a sip. Not a gulp, just a sip that fills your mouth maybe halfway. Before you swallow, let the wine slide across your tongue from front to back and side to side. Notice as many sensations as you can.
You’ll notice many things about the wine. How sweet is it? How acidic is it? If it is a red wine, do you notice the tannins? Is it a light, medium or full-bodied wine? How strong is the alchohol? How fruity is it and do you notice other varietal characteristics? How silky or rough does the wine feel? Finally, does the wine feel “balanced” or does one element overpower the others?
See more tips below on evaluating wine “taste”. Swallow a small amount if you wish to note any lingering “finish”. But if you are tasting a number of wines – in a winery tasting room, for example – your host will usually provide a vessel for you to spit out the wine instead of swallowing. (It is not rude.)
The bottom line is that a good wine should always give pleasure. It should smell good, taste even better, and be smooth and satisfying by itself or with whatever you’re eating. Wine tasting is harder to describe than it is to do. We suggest just tasting as many different wines as possible. Taste, experience, remember, and above all, enjoy!
If you’d like to share your tasting notes, or would like to see how others describe wine, or see what others have said about a specific wine, click to the WineBoard. In the list of forums, you will find sections for almost all major varietal and regional wines. Cheers! Tasting notes can be fun.
Wine tasting journals are handy to jot down tasting notes. Tasting notes will help you remember your likes and dislikes over time. They can also be helpful in learning how to describe the sensations you’re feeling. Over time, you can even develop your own tasting vocabulary. A wine journal can also be useful to track how a wine is developing, for example, if you buy a case of a particular wine and open a bottle periodically every six months or every year. Wine journals make terrific gifts for wine lovers.