It’s easy enough to pour yourself a glass of wine, take a sip and know whether it’s your cup of tea. But it takes some practice and fine tuning to develop a deeper understanding of a wine’s characteristics, and to tap into the full range of flavours coming through as you taste. With practice, you can go from knowing a Pinot Noir tastes of red fruits, to identifying specific notes of strawberry, cherry, mushroom and spice.
In the world of wine, it is essential for experts to be able to pick up on a wine’s quirks and put these sensations into words. This helps to paint a picture of the wine, so that the buyer can know exactly what to expect when reading the wine label. As a starting point, any wine taster will follow a set of steps and rules when analysing a new wine – from appearance to aromas, flavours and characteristics. We’ve put together a handy guide on what the experts look for when tasting wine, so you can really hold your own in front of the wine whizz in your life!
First things first, do your prep. Maximise your chances of picking up on every little nuance and note in the wine by avoiding pungent food and drink in the half hour before your tasting. Otherwise, you may well end up just detecting notes of your lunch or afternoon coffee! Overpowering perfumes or cleaning products can also interfere, so try to avoid these as well.
Pour the wine into a glass and hold it against a plain, white surface, allowing you to assess the colour and clarity. A hazy wine with hints of brown may indicate that it’s faulty or has been corked. By slightly tilting the glass at an angle, you can also see how intense the colour is (if the wine appears almost water-like and colourless at the edge, you know it is a light style of wine). The overall colour can give you an indication of what to expect from the wine – for instance a ruby red may indicate a younger wine with vibrant red fruit flavours, while a garnet red will likely be much older with notes of toast, nut and leather. To find out more about wine colours, check out Colours of Wine Explained for flavours and characteristics to expect from every single shade on the wine colour spectrum.
Swirl the wine in the glass to encourage the aromas to jump out, and give it a quick sniff. At this stage, you can tell pretty much instantly whether the wine’s gone off! You’ll also be able to get an idea of the style of wine and even where it’s from by the notes you’re smelling in the glass – for instance, toasty aromas suggest the wine has been aged in oak, while tropical fruit notes imply it is from a hot climate wine region. The further away from your nose you can detect these aromas, the more intense (and therefore good quality) the wine is. So, lower the glass to your chest and see if you can still smell the fragrances from there. If you can only pick up scents when the glass is right under your nose, it’s probably a cheaper bottle of plonk.
Take a sip of the wine, allowing a little air to enter your mouth too (as this accentuates the flavours). Whether you swallow the wine or spit it out, you get a good idea of the flavours and mouthfeel of the wine, and how long this lingered on your tongue after the wine was gone. Sipping the wine also allows you to judge the level of tannins, fullness of body and acidity (Top tip: tilt your head forward while tasting – the more saliva you feel rush to the front of your mouth, the higher the acidity in the wine).
Think about the balance, intensity and complexity of flavours in the wine, as well as how long the flavours lingered on your tongue afterwards (commonly referred to as the wine’s ‘finish’). At this stage, you can make an informed judgement on a wine’s quality and better understand how this all correlates to the price of the bottle.
So, there you have it – everything you need to know to do your best sommelier impression. If you fancy hearing a Wine Buyer’s take on it, sit back and watch our very own dynamic duo, Andrew and Dave, explain how they taste wine when sourcing new bottles to add to our range.