Tasting wine is a unique experience, and one that is completely personal. There are no right or wrong opinions when it comes to what tastes good to an individual, and the fact that everyone has their own personal “tastes” is partly what makes the experience of wine tasting so fascinating.
But in an attempt to create a standard for comparing wines and how they taste, there are a few key ways that professional wine tasters evaluate wines.
The Look of Wine
1. Look: As soon as the wine is poured into your glass, look at it! You’ll want to check out the color, the clarity and the viscosity - or “legs.” If the wine has a higher alcohol content, it will tend to leave a higher density of droplets on the sides of the glass - which are called the legs. Typically, sweeter wines are more vicious, and often leave “slow flowing tears” inside your glass.
The Smell of Wine
2. Smell: After a few swirls in the glass, you won’t be able to resist smelling it! The aromas in your glass offer all kinds of details about how the wine will taste. Give yourself permission to look for scents - like citrus, or tropical fruits in white wines, and red or black fruits when smelling a red. Most professionals gain the ability to organize the aromas into three groups:
- Primary Aromas (which are fruit-driven, or herbal in nature);
- Secondary Aromas (which are part of the winemaking craft and offer yeast derivatives such as nuts and cheese rind;) and finally,
- Tertiary Aromas (that come from aging the wine and include scents like oak, baking spices and tobacco).
The Taste of Wine
3. Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter flavors as soon as you take your first sip. Every wine has some sour notes, because grapes all inherently have some acid. However, the acid typically varies. But in addition to flavor qualities, the tongue also presents you with other experiences including:
- Texture: Your tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive its texture. Texture in wine is generally noted in higher-alcohol and riper varietals of wine. Texture is often directly related to the tannins you taste in the wine with your tongue. Tannins are that sand-paper or drying sensation you can feel whenever you taste a dry red wine (for example).
- Length: When tasting a wine, you should experience a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish) to every sip. So concentrate on each phase of the taste to really capture the total complexity of the wine.
4. Conclusion: After that first, thoughtful taste, it’s time for you to assess the total experience. Was what you tasted balanced in your mouth? Did you taste a pleasing amount of acidity, and were the tannins to your liking? Did the wine taste as pleasing as it looked and smelled? And most importantly…would you like to take another sip?
At the end of the day, wine tasting is very personal. What one person experiences may not be exactly the same as the person sitting next to them - and that’s OK! There is no “right” or “wrong” in wine tasting. It all boils down to what you like.
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