If you have ever watched an episode of “Frasier,” you know about the classy and slightly toxic world of wine tasting. It is considered an art form which, if mastered and studied closely, can lead you to a high-paying sommelier job at a fancy restaurant. If you don’t quite get to that level, though, it’s still a great party trick to wow your friends while eating out.
There are four basic steps to tasting wine. And oddly enough, none of these include guzzling it down or getting drunk.
Step one: Look
Once your wine is poured into a glass (possibly after a nice airing, depending on how much time you have on your hands), use neutral or natural lighting to give it a good gander. There are several things you should watch out for. Note the color: Is it red or white? Is it a rose? Color indicates whether or not the skin of the grape was used in the production of your wine. It can also indicate the type of grape. Now note the opacity: Is it opaque? Clear? Cloudy? Opacity can be a good clue to the vintage. And lastly, give your glass a little swirl to investigate viscosity. Does your wine have legs? Or, in layman’s terms, does it leave visible, slow droplets along the side of your glass? The stronger the legs, the higher the alcohol content.
Step two: Smell
When you buy a bottle or box of wine from the store, it always advertises the wine’s bouquet. Maybe it says the wine has a hint of peach or an aroma of rose or a nutty undertone. And maybe you’ve never stopped to really give your wine a good whiff and investigate if those smells exist. But that could just be because you never knew how. The shape of a wine glass actually traps in the fragrance of wine better than a more open cup or mug. Thus, if you use one, the smell will have a higher chance of impacting the overall flavor of the wine. As you bring your nose to the rim, try and identify bigger scents first, a.k.a. the primary aromas. Are there floral or fruity notes? Next, try and sniff out the yeast-derivation of the wine, or the secondary aromas. Are there any nutty or cheesy undertones? And lastly, smell the hardest layer to crack: the tertiary aromas. These come from aging and are often more savory, such as oak, cedar or tobacco.
Step three: Taste
Personally, I disagree with the common practice of spitting out your wine after tasting it. But I suppose it helps to be sober when you are trying to suss out the exact origin and vintage of the wine you’re tasting. First, note the taste. Swish the wine around your mouth or aerate it by sucking in air between your teeth. By adding air to the wine, you can better taste the flavor. The acidity, bitterness, sweetness or even saltiness of a wine can be a great indication of wine variety. For instance, Pinot Grigio tends to be more bitter. Next, assess the mouthfeel. Texture can be an indication of ethanol and tannins. With the former causing the wine to feel thicker than water and the latter causing your tongue to feel more dry. And, finally, ask yourself what the length of the wine is. How long does it stay in your mouth? At what point have you consumed it?
Step four: Think
Consider everything you noticed in the previous steps. Was this wine good? Was it bitter? Was it memorable? Was it a Californian variety? Spanish? French? From all of these concepts, can you figure out what you just drank without checking the bottle?
If the answer to the final question is yes: Amazing! You’re ready for your next party.