Most of us will agree that there is a certain level of sophistication that is associated with those who drink wine. Just the title wine connoisseur alone sounds a bit pretentious. This can be intimidating for a newbie who is genuinely interested in learning about wine. You may want to go to a wine tasting, but feel uneasy about looking like a fool. So to help ease your discomfort, we have compiled some of the key things you need to know (in non-wine drinker terms), that will help you learn how to taste wine properly…and prevent yourself from feeling like a complete ass!
You Are Not Born Knowing How to Taste Wine (well, most of us)
I know that when I was young, I didn’t grow up with a wine-tasting / drinking family, so I was totally clueless about how to taste wine properly. But I wanted to learn.
I wanted to learn how to taste wine mostly because I’m a curious person, and love to try new things. But I was reluctant to go to a formal wine tasting because I knew that I’d have no idea what I was doing…or what they would be doing! I didn’t want to embarrass myself, or look like a fool in front of the “pros.”
Luckily, over the years I have slowly learned how to taste wine properly. And now, I feel perfectly comfortable. I may not know all the technical terms, and I am by no means a connoisseur, but I can at least enjoy the experience of going on a wine tour (such as the wine tour we did recently did in New Zealand). Plus with this knowledge, I can now go to the store & go beyond picking a wine just because the label looks cool (although, that is still very much a part of the decision!).
1. Swirl the Wine in Your Glass, and Examine in the Light
We’ve all seen it on TV or in a movie at some point. That person who is poured a glass of wine and swirl it around in the glass, then examine it in the light. What they heck are they doing? Well basically, they are looking for the texture of the wine. The viscosity, the way that it rolls around in the glass. They also look at the way the residue sticks higher up on the glass and how quickly it joins the rest of the liquid in the bottom.
Over time, you will notice subtle differences between wines. As you get to know the various characteristics, what you see will mean something to you. Until then, just swirl your glass and pretend you know what you are doing! If anything, it gives you a way to experience the wine in a different way rather than just drinking it.
2. Smell It!
Most of us know that our sense of taste is closely tied to our sense of smell. In fact, many tests have shown that if you cannot smell, then you cannot truly taste! So smelling your wine is an integral part of tasting it.
This is also part of why you should swirl the wine around in your glass. This helps stir up all those smells! Give it a good swirl, then stick your nose in the glass and give a good deep smell. Do it a few times, and perhaps give it a couple more swirls. Over time, you will start to pick up on different smells.
3. Sip It. And for Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Chug It!
The next step is to actually taste it. But this does not mean you take a mouthful, in fact, you should only take a small amount into your mouth. Why? Because you need to move it around on your palette in order to actually taste all those flavors.
The best way to do this is to pucker your lips, but leave a small round opening, like you are going to whistle. But instead of blowing air out, gently suck air into your mouth. This puckering & sucking action should also cause your tongue to raise in your mouth. Essentially, the incoming air should help stir up the wine that is on your tongue. So having less wine in there will let it bounce around a bit more.
You want the wine to bounce around from your tongue to the roof of your mouth, and mix with the incoming air that you are sucking in slowly. This rolling / bubbling around helps really bring out the flavor of the wine, and allows you to taste it thoroughly! Don’t go too fast. Take your time with this, and do it a few times. This is when you will really start to appreciate the wine tasting experience.
4. The Final Ending – the Swallow
At this point, you have gotten most of the flavor of the wine. You may choose to spit out your wine at this point, and that is perfectly ok. Wine tasting venues should have a splatoon for you to spit into. Don’t be shy about spitting it out if you do not like it. Or if you do not want to get drunk, simply spit it out. No hard feelings.
However if you do choose to swallow it, there is a particular technique so that you can get even more flavor out of the wine. First, close your mouth (as you should have been breathing in through your mouth and rolling the wine around at this point). Breathe in through your nose slightly and hold it (not too deep, you are not trying to pass out!). Then swallow the wine. Right after you swallow, breath out through your mouth.
Essentially, blowing out your mouth right after you swallow will again grab some of those aromas from the wine as it passes through the back part of your tongue, and give you one last burst of flavor on the way down.
How to Taste Wine, Without Looking Like an Ass!
Now you don’t have to worry if you are a newbie to drinking / tasting wine. If you are invited to a wine party, attend a sophisticated event, or decide to go on a wine tasting tour somewhere, then you will know the basics of how to taste wine properly. If you follow these tips, at the very least you will look like you know what you are doing. However over time, you will get the hang of it and start to appreciate all the different flavors and aromas in the wines you are drinking. So naturally you will get better, and who knows, you may even become a connoisseur yourself!
Click here to read all about our recent wine tasting tour in New Zealand!