Wine Tasting for Beginners
December 12th, 2021
You might not be new to drinking wine, but that doesn’t mean you’re knowledgeable when it comes to tasting it. There’s an art to picking up the subtle notes and flavors in every bottle or glass of wine. Let’s look at some hints and tricks for becoming an expert wine taster today.
Did you know that people can become professionals in tasting wine and that there’s even a Court of Master Sommeliers? Just like many other professions, they have standardized levels and ranks. Individuals must pass rigorous exams to climb the ladder and earn better and better credentials. If you’re considering wine tasting as a career or a very serious hobby, then you’ll want to visit the Court of Master Sommeliers and make sure you go through an official route.
Take an Informal Wine Tasting Class
If you don’t have your sights on becoming a master sommelier, no worries. You can still learn from some of the best. Many sommeliers and wine schools offer one-time or multi-meeting classes. Before you know it, you’ll be able to dance circles around a wine list.
The Origins of the Grapes
While you should know where your wine was bottled and where the grapes were grown, this factor is less important when you’re just starting with tasting than others. As your palate becomes more refined, you’ll be able to taste the difference between a Chianti and a Pinot Noir easily. For now, though, don’t let labels get in the way of your authentic experience.
Understand the Factors Impacting Your Palate
If you’ve heard the term “cleanse your palate,” then you already understand that things you’ve come in contact with can impact what you taste in the present. Here is a list of some common stressors on your senses:
- Smells, including your own or others’ perfume, deodorant, shampoo, and more
- How you feel: if you’re exhausted or battling a cold, this can impact your palate. Even having a bad day can cloud your ability to taste.
- The environment: it’s more challenging to pick up on subtle tasting notes in a busy, noisy bar than in a quiet tasting room. Your mind has a harder time concentrating amidst all that chaos.
- Your palate and taste buds: if you’ve had a lot of coffee or eaten foods with intense flavors, such as garlic, onion, or heavy spices, that will influence your palate as well.
The best time to do a tasting is usually around midday. Snack on some bread and mild cheese or nuts before sampling the wine, and save the meal for after the tasting. Always start with the lightest (usually white wines) first, and work your way “up.” Your tasting room server or sommelier can guide you.
Utilize All of Your Senses
Tasting wine isn’t just about what you notice on your tongue.
Start with looking at the wine. Observe the color from the top, side, and when tilted. Gently swirl the wine and see if it develops “legs.”
Next, smell the wine. Let your nostrils first peer slightly over the rim of the glass and breathe in. Then, move to the center of the glass and do the same. Notice what you pick up; it will be interesting to see if you taste those flavors, too.
Taste and Texture
Ah, the coup de grâce! Finally, gently sip the wine. Allow it to sit in different parts of your mouth: the tip of your tongue, back of your throat, and in your cheeks. Again, take note of what flavors your mouth picks up.
A bottle of wine opens up and changes the longer it’s exposed to air. That means that even if you smelled leather and tasted blackberries at first, you might pick up lighter notes later (or the other way around). One of the most exciting parts of tasting wine is seeing how it develops as it reacts to the air.
Describe What You’re Tasting
One of the most essential tools you can have at your disposal is a wine tasting wheel. With a tool like this, you can start with just a vague note, such as fruitiness, and then use it to identify further. Perhaps from there, the essential you notice it’s like dried fruit, and then narrow that down to a fig. The more time you spend tasting wine, the more intuitive many of these flavors will become. While you may need the wheel less and less, even experts refer to it from time to time.
Enjoy Tasting, Not Just Drinking
True wine connoisseurs enjoy the experience of tasting just as much (if not more) than the actual drinking. You’ll see many professionals spit out their wine. This is because they don’t want a rising blood alcohol level to cloud their judgment. Another option is to try non-alcoholic wine, like Semblance, especially for those in your party avoiding alcohol for the time being. Unlike other “mocktails,” Semblance is made from real wine grapes. You can enjoy much the same experience without the uncomfortable intoxication.