I'm constantly asked by my friends how to properly taste and examine a glass of wine, so I thought I might as well deconstruct how it's done. Before I begin, one of the fun things about knowing how to taste wine is that once you figure out all the 'moves' (so to speak), then you'll be able to spot all the people faking their way through wine tastings. It still puzzles me why people like to pretend to know more about wine than they actually do, because then that just makes wine seem more selective and exclusive and then people might feel too nervous to try to learn more about wine. It's a whole terrible cycle.
Anyway, the way humans examine and taste wine is by using our eyes, nose, mouth, and brain (in that exact order).
- Eyes: When you get a glass of wine, you first examine the clarity and intensity of colors. The best way to do that is by holding the glass at a 45 degree angle against a white piece of paper to really look at the color, but this is usually considered a faux pas in restaurants, so you can just slightly tilt your glass if you're in public. For white, the colors your eyes notice are usually gold, amber, yellow, or straw. For red, the colors are purple, ruby red, or even brick. Once you've picked a color, then you decided on its level of intensity: pale, medium, or intense (for whites) or dark (for reds).
- Nose: Before you can begin tasting, swirl your glass around on the table (DO NOT PICK UP YOUR GLASS AND SWIRL IT AROUND IN THE AIR. YOU WILL GET WINE ALL OVER YOU). Next you take a deep, quick sniff of the wine. To ensure that you can smell all the aromas, stick your nose all the way into the glass (Hint hint: if you ever see someone sniffing wine and they are not sticking their whole nose into the glass, they really don't know a lot about wine. Definitely the best way to spot the phonies, to sound like Holden Caulfield). Some aromas you might notice could be various fruits, earthy tastes, or maybe chocolate. This step is also very important because by smelling the wine once it's opened, you can tell if there are any off-odors, like wet newspaper (meaning the wine is probably corked) or oxidation (basically that the wine is probably past its prime).
- Mouth: Now comes the fun part--actually drinking the wine. When you first taste your wine, give the wine a bit of a 'chew,' then inhale through your mouth to aerate and warm the wine. Try and notice the wine's tastes, flavors, and 'mouth feel' (by that I mean does the wine taste full-bodied, light, or feel heavy in your mouth). Taste in wine is concerned with whether it tastes sweet, sour, or bitter. Flavors are usually the same as aromas that you smelled earlier, and you might notice some more flavors now that you've tasted the wine.
- Brain: Once you've either swallowed or spit out the wine (something I never do; I don't believe in wasting perfectly good wine. Or bad wine), your brain summarizes what you just tasted:
- Are the fruit and tannins well balanced in the wine?
- Is the wine simple or complex with more flavors and aromas?
- Does the wine have a long and lingering finish on the tongue, or do the flavors disappear immediately?
Voila! Now you know how to taste a glass of wine.
If you don't feel like going through all these probably too-detailed steps, then at least keep these few tips in mind when you next taste wine: look at the color, stick your nose in the glass and really smell the wine, taste the wine, and then finally think about what you just tasted.