Everything You Need To Know To Become An Expert Wine Taster
If you want to learn more about wine then the best thing you can do is go to a wine tasting event. Here you will be able to taste a series of wines under the watchful eye of a sommelier – who can also answer any of your burning questions.
This article will teach you everything you need to know to make the most of a wine tasting experience. These are skills that you can also use at a restaurant when you are picking out a wine to pair with your meal or if you want to start working in the wine industry.
Here is the complete guide to wine tasting.
Table of contents
If all wines are made from grapes then why do they all taste so different?
There are thousands of sub-species of grapes, all of which taste slightly different. Most wines use more than one type of grape to develop their flavor. How, where, and when the grapes are grown also have a huge impact on the taste of the wine.
The most common types of white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. The most popular red grapes are Syrah, Merlot, and Pinot Noir.
How the wine is distilled and stored also has a big impact on how the wine tastes. Aging also makes a difference. Typically the longer a wine has been aged, the more valuable it is.
Wine is a drink that has been made for over 8000 years – it can be traced back to the Caucasus region in 6000 BCE.
Why Try Wine Tasting?
The main reason many people try wine tasting is that they want to learn more about their favorite drink. What they learn in the process is that learning more about wine can deepen your enjoyment of the drink.
Understanding wine tasting will help you to learn what flavors you like in wine, pick out better wine to drink at home, and get better at pairing wine with food.
If you want to work in the wine industry in any capacity then you will need to learn how to taste wine and develop as sophisticated a palate as possible.
A wine tasting event is the perfect crash course in wine and its unique range of flavors. At a good event, you can taste and compare over 30 types of wines. While doing this you can start to develop a palate for the notes nestled in the wines.
Five Main Types of Wine
Wine has been made all over the world for thousands of years, and every culture has its own take on the beverage.
Most warm countries around the world make some form of wine – from India to Australia, from Argentina to the USA. There are illustrious vineyards all over the world.
France is considered to be the wine capital of the world, with many of the most expensive and iconic varieties of wine originating from the country. The country has a lot of rules about how wines can be named, for example, sparkling wine cannot be labeled as Champagne unless the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France.
When you first start researching the drink, it is easy to get overwhelmed and very difficult to know where to start.
In this section, we are going to talk you through the five main types of wine:
Let’s start by learning a little bit about red wine.
Red wine is made from red, black, and purple grapes.
Red wine is the widest range of wine when it comes to flavors. Most fortified wines are made from red wine. Red wine can be light, sweet, and refreshing or it can be heady, rich, and indulgent – and anywhere in between.
The color of the wine comes from the skin of the grape rather than the flesh. Younger wines can have a purple tint to them, slightly aged wines will be of a true claret red, and heavily aged wines can almost look brown.
Compared to most white and rose wines, red wine has an incredibly intense flavor palate. Red whites can have notes of chocolate, plum, licorice, and more.
The most popular types of red wine are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Grenache and Pinot Noir.
White wine is made from green and white grapes. Sometimes small black grapes can be used to add depth to the flavor palate. If black grapes are used they will be skinned first
White wines can range in flavor – they can be sweet or tart, light or heavy, refreshing or dry on the tongue. White wines typically contain fruity and floral notes, although they can occasionally contain earthy and citrus notes.
French and Italian white wines are the most sought after white wines, closely followed by Australian and Californian wines. Wines that have notes of plum and summer fruits tend to be the most popular.
While red wines have been made for around 8000 years, white wines have only been made for about 4000 years.
The most popular types of white wine are Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio.
Rosé (pronounced rose-ay) wines are typically made with a blend of black and green grapes. Or the wine can be made from black grapes that have had their skins removed. They can range from very vivid pink liquor to clear with a hint of pink.
You might see Italian rosé labeled as rosato and Spanish rose called rosado.
Depending on how the rosé is made, it can be super sweet or it can be very dry and heady. A rosé could have notes of peaches, strawberries, and sweet florals – or it could have notes of sugar plums, rose, and prunes.
A rosé made outside of Europe could be made by mixing red and white wine together to create the desired flavors and colors. It is actually illegal in most of France to sell wine made in this way.
Some historians believe the rosé has only been produced for the last 1000 years, which makes it very new compared to red and white wine.
Sparkling wine can be made of any type of grape. You can get sparkling wine made from red, white, and rosé wine.
The original wine is made, then the wine is put through a second fermentation process that makes it bubbly. However, mass produced sparkling wine can be injected with carbon dioxide to make it sparkling.
The first sparkling wines came from France, Champagne and Prosecco being the most well known.
Cava wine is made in Spain and has grown in popularity as it is less sweet and less expensive than Prosecco. Clap sparkling wine is made in South Africa and is also incredibly popular. Most of the sparkling wine made in Europe is now produced in Törley, Hungary.
California is the main producer of sparkling wine in America, followed by Washington State and New Mexico.
Finally, let’s talk about dessert wine.
There is no exact definition of what makes a dessert wine – except that they need to be sweet. They are called dessert wines because they are typically served with dessert at the end of the meal.
Dessert wine is a wide category that covers alternative fruit wines (like plum or cherry wine), sweet white wines, and all the way through to fortified wines.
Fortified wines are a thickened and distilled wine that has had an alcohol spirit added to it. Most of the time fortified wines are made by adding brandy. The most common types of fortified wines are sherry and port. They can be made with both red and white wine.
Some fortified wines are made by adding honey, sugar, or some kind of natural syrup. Honeyed wine was very popular in the Roman Empire.
Dessert wines are not to be confused with the sweet spirits that are served after coffee in many parts of Europe – like Ouzo and Limoncello.
Serving Wine And Choosing Glassware
If you go to a wine tasting event, you will notice that you are not served in the same type of glass. There is a reason for this.
The most obvious difference is that fortified wine is served in a much smaller glass with a wide opening. Fortified wine is a lot stronger than normal wine, so the glasses are smaller. The opening is very wide to allow the wine to breathe.
Sparkling wine should be served in a flute. This is a tall, thin glass. When sparkling wine is poured into a traditional wine glass it loses its bubbles, the shape of the flute helps to preserve the carbonation and prevents the drink from going flat quickly.
A typical wine glass will have a large base (or bowl) that will allow you to swirl the wine before drinking.
Handling Wine And How To Pour Wine Correctly
When you are holding a bottle of wine, you should do so with one hand.
If your hand is big enough, then you can place your thumb into the divot at the bottom of the bottle, and hold the wine bottle up with the rest of your fingers.
You should pour a bottle of wine from no higher than an inch about the top of the glass. The higher up you pour from, the more the wine will oxidize – you do not want this.
It is considered impolite to let the neck of the bottle touch the rim of the wine glass when pouring.
How Do You Open A Bottle Of Wine?
Whines are sealed in two different ways – a screw top or a cork.
Screw tops just twist open.
You will need to use a corkscrew to open a cork bottle – if the wine is still. You will want to reset the corkscrew before using the screw to piece the cork. Dig the screw about an inch into the cork. Then turn the corkscrew, this will twist the cork up and out of the bottle.
You do not want the cork to fall into the wine.
If the wine is sparkling then it will typically be corked with a cage over the cork.
Before you drink, you should remove the cage, then point the cork end of the bottle away from yourself and anything that can break. Then cover the cork with a kitchen towel and start slowly twisting the cork. The cork will become loser, eventually when the cork has moved enough the pressure will release and you will hear a pop.
The cork might fly out of the bottle, or it might drop out. This will depend on the type of wine and how the cork was fitted.
How Long Does Open Wine Last?
This depends on the type of wine.
Dessert and fortified wines last much longer than all other types of wine. You can keep these wines opened, but recorked for up to six months.
Rosé and heavy white wines can be kept in the fridge, recorked for 5-7 days. The same goes for red wines.
Light white wines last between 3-5 days, recorked in the fridge.
Sparkling wine will only last between 1-3 days in the fridge once it has been opened. If you want to recork a sparkling wine then make sure you use a device that is designed to do this – you don’t want too much pressure building up inside the bottle.
Evaluating Wines & How To Taste Wine Properly
Now, we have got to the good part, it’s time to start learning how to taste wine. Wine tasting is a skill that is quick to learn but takes many years to master. So, the best time to get started is today – after you have finished your work day, of course.
This step-by-step guide will talk you through how to taste wine to a professional standard.
One of the best things you can do to aid your wine tasting journey is to expand your knowledge of flavor notes. The more you can learn to recognise and pick out – the most insightful your wine tasting sessions will be.
This article is a great place to start when it comes to identifying flavor notes – it contains a list of over 100 different flavor notes commonly found in wines.
Step 1 – Look
You’ve poured your wine. You have let it sit for a minute or so – what do you do now? Do you start slurping straight away?
Before you put that wine anywhere near your face, you should look at the bottle. You want to know what type of wine you are drinking, how strong the wine is, and the tasting notes that the makers have given.
There is a lot of information on the label that can help you in your tasting process. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and try to do everything yourself.
When you first start tasting, knowing the flavor notes you are meant to be looking for can really help you to identify what you are tasting.
Now, it’s time to take a look at the color of the liquor.
Swill the wine around in your glass. How does the light affect the wine? Is it a thicker liquid? Is it light? Is there a hint of an unexpected color in there?
Step 2 – Smell
Next up, let’s smell the wine.
Why do you smell the wine before you drink it? Well, around 80% of our taste actually comes from what we smell. This is why, most of the time if you don’t like the way something smells, you really don’t like how it tastes.
So, what is the best way to smell your wine?
Well, don’t smell it as soon as you pour it, you want to give it some time to breathe. We recommend a minute or so – you can use that time to look at your wine.
After this minute has passed, you can swill the wine and place your nose into the glass. Breathe deeply a few times and then step away.
Think about the notes suggested on the bottle – can you pick up any of these? Are there notes you’re getting that aren’t on the bottle?
The smell of the wine is typically called the bouquet.
It is finally time to taste the wine.
There are two things to remember here – (1) you want to only drink a small amount of wine at a time, don’t gulp! (2) You want to slurp as you drink.
Why should I slurp while I drink wine?
Slurping your wine as you taste it will allow extra air to enter your mouth – this makes it easier to taste the wine. This is white we drink wine out of thin glasses rather than thick ceramic mugs.
Slurping also makes it easier for you to get the wine to cover your whole tongue. Different parts of your tongue are responsible for tasting different flavors. If the wine does not cover the whole of your tongue then you will not get the whole flavor profile.
When you have the wine in your mouth, it is time to think about what you are tasting.
Think back to the notes that we mentioned on the bottle.
Can you identify the notes that were mentioned? Can you taste more than you expected to?
How does the wine feel in your mouth?
Have you tasted this type of wine before? If so, how does the wine you’re tasting now compare to it?
Does the wine taste the way you expected it to? Did the smell of the wine give a good indication of how the wine would taste – does the bouquet match the flavor?
After you have spat the wine out or swallowed it, it’s time to think about the aftertaste.
Is the aftertaste pleasant? Does it make you want to drink more of the wine?
How does your mouth feel now? Does the aftertaste accentuate any of the notes in the wine?
When you are tasting wine, you will most likely be tasting a few in quick succession. You do not want the wine you just tasted to affect the one you are about to taste.
To cleanse their palate, professional wine tasters will eat plain white bread and then have a sip or two of water. This is something you can also do at home. If you are at a tasting event then you will probably be prodive with bread and water between glasses.
You must also remember to cleanse your nose. If you smell a lot of different wines without a break, you will go nose-blind. This happens when your nose is overwhelmed. This will affect your ability to taste wines accurately.
An easy way to cleanse the nose and to prevent nose-blindness is to sniff coffee beans in between glasses of wine.
Wine Tasting Tips For Beginners
Before we leave you to start your wine tasting journey, we want to give you a few more tips. These tips will make you a better wine taster.
Many of them will seem too simple to make a difference, but when you try them out you will be shocked by how effective they are. You will also be surprised by how many people forget these simple tips when they are wine tasting.
The following 7 tips will help you to get the most out of any wine tasting session that you do.
Pour A Small Amount Of Wine
When you try a wine at a restaurant, they will only ever pour you out a small amount of wine. This is partly so that too much wine is not wasted.
But they also do this because you can get a better sense of the wine’s bouquet when there is only a little bit of wine in the glass. You can pick out the notes without being overwhelmed by the smell of the alcohol within the wine.
You will also breathe in a lot more air when you are sipping from a partially filled glass. Have you ever noticed that the last dregs of a glass always taste the best?
Some experts say it takes only three sips for you to be able to fully taste a wine. If you only need this little wine, then there is no need to pour out too much.
Especially, if you’re going to be using a spitoon…
Take Your Time And Examine Its Taste And Aroma
Wine tasting is really exciting and it can be tempting to rush through the whole process. You want to be able to get through as many wines as possible in your time – because the more you try, the more likely you will be able to find a favorite.
Don’t fall into this trap.
Successful wine tasters take things slowly.
You need to allow the wine to breathe. You need to take time to look at the wine. You need to smell the wine and dive intos its bouquet.
Then when you are tasting the wine, you want to let it roll over your tongue. You want to take time to think about what you are tasting and how it lines up with the notes you were given on the wine – as well as how it compares to other wines from that region or of that type that you have tried.
The longer you spend with each wine, the better understanding you will get of it.
Use The Spitoon
Ever wondered why sommeliers don’t die of alcohol poisoning? Well, that’s because they don’t drink a full glass of every wine they sample.
In fact, they might not drink any of the wine they sample – they may choose to spit the wine out into a spittoon.
Drinking a lot of wine in quick succession can make you tipsy – this will numb your tongue, making it harder for you to taste the wine, and it will affect your abilities to recognise notes in the wine as well as remember what you have tasted.
You should not go into a wine tasting with the purpose of getting drunk – no matter how fun that seems. You will most likely end up with a wine you didn’t want or one that tastes awful.
If you are only tasting one or two wines then you might not need a spitoon.
Cleanse Your Palate Between Wines
We touched on this in our guide to wine tasting, but it is really important and bears repeating.
Between every glass of wine that you sample, you should cleanse your palate and cleanse your notes.
Bread and water is a great option for cleansing your palate. You want something that is going to be refreshing and absorb the flavors, but isn’t going to leave an after taste in your mouth.
You should make sure the water doesn’t have any flavoring in it – mint can numb your tongue, and lemon water will make the next wine you drink taste sweeter than it actually is.
We suggest you bring a bag of coffee beans with you when you go to a wine tasting. You can then sniff these coffee beans in between wines to help keep your nose from getting overwhelmed.
You might also want to blow your nose between tastings.
Familiarize Yourself With Terms Used For Describing Wines
At the very start of this article, we said that one of the best things you can do to improve your wine tasting ability is to improve your vocabulary.
If you don’t know where to start, then start with a list of common notes that appear in wine. Familiarize yourself with all of these notes, so you can start to pick them out when you taste them.
Then, start to think about words that you can use to describe the wine. Here is a great list to start with.
For example, when someone says that a wine is bright – this means that it makes your mouth water because it is sharp.
If they say that the wine is steely – this means that the wine is very acidic and has a lot of sharpness to it.
Taste In The Following Order: Sparkling, Light White, Bold White, Rose, Light Red, Bold Red, And Then Sweet Or Fortified To Get The Best Experience
If you are at a wine tasting event, this will be done for you.
However, if you are organizing your own tasting, then it is really important you think about what order you are tasting your wine in.
Start with the sparkling wine, then light white, then white, rosé, light red, heavy red, then fortified wine.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions
When you are trying to learn a new skill the best thing you can do is ask questions, especially when you are spending time with an expert.
Approach any opportunity to taste wine with an open mind and be ready to listen to the information people can pass on to you.
When you first start wine tasting there will be a lot to learn and your brain will be full of questions! Don’t be afraid to ask them. Anyone who loves wine will be happy to talk to you about what they know and will be more than willing to answer any questions.
Wine tasting is a skill that is quick to learn but takes many years to master.
The only way to get better at wine tasting is to practice, expand your flavor notes vocabulary, and ask questions when you need a little more guidance. All of which can be engaging activities and will only enhance your enjoyment of wine.
The skills that you have learned from this article don’t just have to be used at wine tasting events. You can use them to improve your enjoyment of wine while you are at home or out for food with friends. The more you know about wine, the more you can enjoy it.