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Tips for Tasting Wines

Without the snobbery and intimidation.

Tasting wine, in many situations can be snobby, pretentious, and downright intimidating for those who are not quite sommeliers yet.  We are expected to know exactly what to look for, smell, taste, and even worse, how to describe all of the above.  But, why does all of that matter?  Can’t we just like, or dislike a wine?  Aren’t we able to enjoy it without having to explain why?  Do we have to know the chemistry, or can we just say “it feels good.”  Well, the short answer is yes, you can just relax and enjoy what you are tasting and call it good.  I’m pretty sure that the first winemakers centuries ago were not concerned with the tannin structure or the hints of rosehips and chocolate.  Nope, they just wanted something that was balanced and smelled, tasted, and felt good.

couples tasting their wedding wineBut, perhaps if we do know a little bit about what we are looking for might actually help us enjoy it.  It helps us figure out what we like about a wine so that we can seek out more of it.  Or helps us to identify what it is that we are displeased with, so we can avoid it next time.  It might even make us a little more comfortable when we are visiting tasting rooms or shopping in a wine cellar, when we can speak the language and more importantly, communicate our preferences.

Here’s an example.  I’m not particularly fond of sweet wines, neither white nor red nor pink.  I find that the sweetness in some wines is too much for my palate and they cover up the higher acid or alcohol levels.  I prefer drier wines that have a long finish, so I can savor the flavor longer.  I like when they feel heavier in my mouth, almost to the point where you can chew them.

Now that is not too complicated to communicate to someone, right?  I’m not describing my preferences to show off my wine knowledge.  I’m communicating what I like, so I can get what I want.  Simple.

But, what about when we are in the tasting room, taking a deep dive into some wines in our everlasting quest to find our faves?  Do we need to know what we are doing?  Nope, but it might help, if our goal is to remember what we liked and didn’t.  Here’s what you do.

  1. See.  Hold the wine glass against a white background or light to observe the wine’s color and clarity.
  2. Swirl.   Allow the wine to “breathe” for a few seconds and bring out the aromas.
  3. Smell.   Take note of the aromas, before you take a sip.  Repeat.
  4. Sip.  Roll the wine gently in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing or spitting.
  5. Sense.  Consider your impressions of the wine and what you like or dislike about it.
  6. Savor.  Take a moment to experience the wine and ask yourself how it makes you feel.
You can come up with some impressive wine tasting notes if you simply point out your observations as you go. For example, you might say something like the following:

  1. See. “I love the deep purple color of this wine.”
  2. Swirl. “Its remarkably clear when held to the light.”
  3. Smell. “It smells a bit peppery. Almost spicy.”
  4. Sip. “It has a nice texture, not too heavy.”
  5. Sense. “It tastes wonderful, well after I swallow.”
  6. Savor. “I like this one. I can picture drinking this with an Italian dinner.”

There is absolutely no need to deconstruct a wine and articulate all of its complex aromas and flavors, unless of course, you like to.  For most of us regular people, our palates are not in tune to all those descriptors.   Can you actually tell me what black currants smell like?  If you can… good for you.  But, that won’t ever help me to enjoy a wine any more or less.

At the end of the day, regular people who love to taste new wines are going to find their own way of describing them.  It’s quite alright to say “I’m not sure why, but I just don’t like that one.”   My guess is, that because you read through this, you are interested in learning more, not so you can be impressive in the tasting room, but so you can find some happiness with your wine experience.  That’s what motivates me.