Observe the color and clarity of the wine. View wine by holding the glass up to a white background in a well-lighted room. Use the rim of a tablecloth or even your white shirt’s sleeve. Notice if the wine is clear and brilliant or cloudy and dull. Notice the depth of color. Is it watery and pale or deep and dark? Looking straight down into the glass, can you see the bottom? Observe the rim. Is the color of wine same at the rim as in a middle?
White wines vary from clear, through light green and all shades of yellow, to deep golden brown. They naturally gain color as they age.
Red wines range from red, ruby to purple, garnet and brick. As they age, they lose color and begin to brown.
Wine color is affected the most by:
- the age of the wine.
- the grape variety
- whether or not the wine spent time in oak
Also, observe the body of the wine by the way it coats the sides of the glass. If the “legs” trickle down slowly, it has more body. If it falls down in sheets, it has less body.
Swirling wine in the glass exposes it to a larger surface area. This increases wine’s contact with air and intensifies its aromas. Swirl your wine by holding the glass by the base or by the stem.
What is the very first thing you think of when you smell wine?
The smell of wine is referred to as its nose, bouquet or aroma. Common aromas include different fruits, spices, herbs and flowers. While different people will smell different things in the same wine, there are general smells specific to certain varieties.
Be sure to smell the wine several times. A wine with great complexity will offer different aromas each time, as well as several scents at one time. There are hundreds of smells in wine!
Aromas most often associated with white wines:
- Chardonnay: pear, apple, peach, apricot, vanilla, lemon, melon, pineapple and other tropical fruit, honey
- Sauvignon Blanc: grass, herbs, grapefruit, pear, gooseberry, lime, lemon, olive
- Gewurztraminer and Riesling: grapefruit, apricot, lime, mint, melon, peach, lilac, jasmine, cinnamon, cloves
- Viognier: flowers, lemon, honeysuckle and nectarine
Aromas most often associated with red wines:
- Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot: blackberry, raspberry, cherry, plum, black currant, chocolate, coffee, tea, tobacco, cedar, bell pepper, mint, smoke, nuts
- Pinot Noir: raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, violet, rose
- Zinfandel and Syrah: black currant, blackberry, pomegranate, plum, lavender, black peppercorn, wet wood, earthiness
- Sangiovese: raspberry, cherry, plum, anise, olive
Unfortunately, sometimes you might encounter an “off smell”. These smells include:
- Sherry: the wine has oxidized from age or improper storage.
- Vinegar: the wine contains excessive acetic acid.
- Cork/Mustiness: a defective or inferior cork has affected the wine.
- Sulphur: the wine contains excessive sulphur dioxide.
The overall “taste” of a wine is a combination of smells and flavors, so don’t skip the smelling stage to get to the tasting. Different parts of your tongue are designed to taste different things:
- Sweetness (tip of tongue)
- Sour/Acid (inner sides)
- Saltiness (outer sides)
- Bitter/Alcohol (back of tongue)
Roll the wine across your taste buds, keeping in mind that a balance of the following characteristics is ideal:
- Body Fullness or thinness: A function of both alcohol and glycerol.
- Acidity: Gives the wine crispness and freshness without which the wine is flat and sour.
- Tannin: The bitterness you taste comes from grape skins and seeds. It is essential to the finish of a wine. Most obvious in reds. Can taste astringent, hard, dry or soft.
- Sweetness: Comes from the wine’s fruit flavors as well as any fermented grape sugars left in the wine. If there is no perceived sweetness, a wine is “dry.”
- Fruitiness: Intensity is dependent on the variety, growing conditions and winemaking techniques.
5. Swallow or Spit
After swallowing, notice the aftertaste, or finish. The better the wine, the more defined the finish. Good finish will linger on your palate for quite some time and will reflect the flavors of the wine or have flavors on its own.
Finally, evaluate the overall quality of wine:
- Did you like it? Why or why not?
- What did you notice about the body?
- How long did the impression/flavor linger?
- Was it sweet? Acidic? Tannic? Fruity?