Do you want an easy and practical way to learn how to taste wine in 4 simple steps? Well then just keep reading. Needless to say, wine tasting is one of my favorite topics. That’s the best way to learn and discover new wines, as every bottle has its own story.
I’ve organized the content below in small sections to make it easy to read. I must confess I’m quite happy with the research and work done. I hope you’ll find it useful too.
There are several good reasons why you should try wine tasting at least. The most important reason is that it will significantly improve your experience. The wine will taste better. I know it sounds crazy but that ‘s exactly what happened to me.
Wine tasting is basically a systematic and standard approach to evaluate wine. Breaking down the process into small steps allows you to recognize the single components and by doing so you increase your overall experience. And don’t worry anyone can do it just follow the below steps. With a bit of practice, you will be able to do it effortlessly. Here we are following the Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (SAT) from the WSET.
Use the table of content below to jump straight to the section. In this article you’ll learn more about:
Are you ready to taste wine like a pro? Let’s begin!
The Importance of Wine Tasting
There are at least three good reasons why Wine Tasting it’s important:
- It helps you appreciate better the wine you are drinking.
- It provides a systematic and standard way to analyze the wine that can be applied to all wines.
- It helps you develop a recognized language so that you can share your experience with others.
Wine Tasting in 4 Steps
There are four phases or tests: appearance, nose, palate, and conclusion. But before you even start with them you should make sure that there aren’t external factors that might affect your assessment. The most common are:
- Be in a place with good lighting.
- Be in a place free of strong odors.
- Make sure your palate is free of strong flavors.
- Make sure to use proper glasses, like ISO glasses.
#1 – Visual Test: Look at the Wine
Unless it’s a blind tasting, this is where you start. The goal here is to get as many clues as possible by just looking at the wine intensity and color.
That is how much color the wine has. It can be pale, medium, or deep. To assess it, hold the glass at a 45° angle and look at its color at the rim. Place behind something white so that the wine color is not distorted.
The color range is as follows:
- For White Wines: lemon, gold, amber.
- For Rosé: pink, pink-orange, orange.
- For Red: purple, ruby, garnet, tawny.
For example, a Pinot Grigio will usually be pale lemon and non-persistent legs. A Syrah/Shiraz will usually be deep ruby to purple with persistent legs.
#2 – Nose Test: Smell the Wine
It’s now time to smell our wine. The goal here is to get insights into its quality and aromas. Will it be a basic or fine wine? Swirl the wine for a few seconds and take a short sniff. Let’s assess the aromas’ intensity and their characteristics.
- Aromas Intensity
Do you struggle to identify them or can you immediately identify them? It’s pronounced if it’s the latter, otherwise, it is light or medium.
- Aromas Characteristics
There are three aroma types: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Read our winemaking guide to learn more. Here is when having a systematic approach helps a lot as aromas are generally grouped in clusters and subclusters.
Primary aromas develop in the alcoholic fermentation process. You could find fruit, flowers, herbs, spice, vegetables, and others. For example lime, gooseberry, green bell pepper, and flint are common aromas for Sauvignon Blanc.
Secondary aromas develop in the post-fermentation process. You could find bread, toast, yogurt, cream, butter, vanilla, smoke, coffee, and others. For example, a Chardonnay that undergoes malolactic fermentation will have a butter aroma.
Tertiary aromas develop in the maturation process from oak aging and/or oxygen actions. You could find leather, mushrooms, tobacco, and others for red wines and honey, cinnamon, gingers, and others for white wines. For example, a Pinot Noir that ages in oak could have a leather aroma.
#3 – Palate Test: Taste the Wine
It’s finally time to taste our wine and that’s my favorite part 😋! By now we have already formed an opinion on what to expect from our wine. Let’s verify our assumptions.
Take a sip of wine. We need to aerate it and get it spread all over your palate so that you can get as many flavors as possible. To do that try sucking on it as if you are pulling it through a straw and circulate it through your mouth. If you are tasting a decent wine a lot must be happening in there!
The following steps will help you assess the various components:
Do you taste a hint of sugar? If not it’s dry. If there’s a tiny amount that is off-dry, a bit more is medium, then sweet and very sweet. Read our Wine Sweetness Guide to learn more. For example, Chardonnay will be dry, Pinot Gris off-dry to sweet, and Sauterne very sweet.
Have you ever had a tingling sensation on your tongue and increased salivation after a glass of white wine? That’s because of its acidity. The higher the acidity the more your mouth water and for longer. An example Pinot Grigio usually has acidity whilst Syrah/Shiraz has medium-high acidity levels.
Have you ever had your tongue and mouth dry after the first sip of, red wine? That’s because of the tannins. You’ll find tannins only in red wine and that’s because they come from the skin of the grapes. High levels of tannins give longevity to the wine but they need to be properly counterbalanced in the taste. That’s why Cabernet Sauvignon’s finest bottles can age for decades and why it is usually blended with other grapes like Merlot.
Have you ever felt the wine to be heavy or too watery? That’s the alcoholic level of the wine. You’ll find it in the wine label as ABV percentage, or percentage of Alcohol By Volume. A Zinfandel/Primitivo for instance could have an ABV up to 17% which is considered high.
The combination of Sweetness, Acidity, Tannins, and Alcohol will give you a sense of its Body. The Alcohol component generally plays a big part in determining the body of the wine. The previously mentioned Zinfandel/Primitivo with 17% ABV will be full body. Acidity plays a role too, high acidity wine lowers the body perception. That’s why a Pinot Grigio is usually a light-body wine.
- Flavors Intensity and Characteristics
They follow the same principles as per the Aromas. Just refer to the previous section “2. Nose: Smell the Wine”.
#4 – Conclusion: How Was It?
It’s judging time! We thoroughly analyzed and tasted our wine and we now need to come up with a short description of how good our experience was and its overall quality.
Quality It’s a function of:
Were all the various components in equilibrium between them? If so, was it a pleasant experience? If not, quality won’t exceed acceptable levels?
How long are the desirable sensations lasting in your mouth after you have had your wine? The longer the higher the quality.
Were you able to distinctively spot the various flavors? If yes it’s an indicator of quality.
Have you ever noticed that wine flavors evolve in your mouth and change as you taste them? That’s complexity. When you drink a complex wine you shouldn’t rush to the next sip, but enjoy it until the last sensations last.
A Few Extra Tips
- Start from light body wines and not the other way round otherwise you won’t be able to perceive aromas and flavors.
- Serve wine at the right temperature as it affects the taste profile. Here is a quick test for you: try to drink a stone-cold coke and a warm one and see if they taste the same.
- Hold the glass on the stem so that you won’t alter the wine temperature.
- When you taste wine make sure you spit rather than swallow. This will keep your senses sharp for the next wine. Of course, it won’t last forever…
- Taking tasting notes will help retain the lingo and the knowledge.
- Practice, practice, practice. This time though is about having more wine, so it shouldn’t be too bad ! Here you’ll find more FAQs about Wine Tasting.
What to do next?
Now that you can taste like a pro, practice as much as you can. I usually do it with friends. That’s more fun and cheaper as well 😎! Check out our wine deep dives where you can find taste profiles, food pairing, and much more!