Knowing your wine is often seen as a refined art, and one that can be very impressive in the right circles. But while many of us enjoy a tipple from time to time, we might not all be expert wine tasters.
But… There are ways to go from wine novice to wine expert. And while we don’t all need, or want to be wine tasting experts, it is a cool skill to have (a cool man skill maybe), especially if you do enjoy wine.
The purpose of wine tasting is to identify the flavours present in a wine and determine its quality. This can be done through both objective analysis (the chemical composition of a wine) or subjective analysis (your own experience).
The Basics of Wine Tasting
Wine tasting isn’t complicated really. And you can easily bluff your way to seeming like an expert wine taster just by following these simple steps to analyse what is in your glass.
Step one: The colour
The first step to becoming a wine expert is to determine the colour of your sample. This can be done by holding it up to the light and looking at its hue or swirling it around in a glass until you see a nice shade of red or, if it’s a white wine, any tones or textures in the liquid.
Step two: The scent
Next, smell your wine and make sure it smells like grapes or berries. For white wine the nose will often give a smell of citrus, floral tones and sweetness. If you’re getting some unusual scents then chances are that something went wrong with the fermentation.
Take note of what you smell and take the time for the flavour and scents to develop in your nose before moving onto the next step.
Step three: The taste
Finally, take a sip of your sample and savour its flavour on your tongue before swallowing. You don’t need to spit, as this is usually what professional tasters and sommeliers will do to avoid becoming intoxicated while sampling multiple wines.
Simply sip your wine, gently swirl it around your mouth and let it roll down your throat and enjoy the flavours the wine imparts. That first sip will contain a lot of the additional flavour notes that didn’t come through on the nose – so allow the wine to work its magic before moving onto the next sip.
Make sure that whatever food you’re eating pairs well with this particular type of grape varietal before moving on to another one so as not to overwhelm yourself with too many new flavours at once!
How to Pair Wine and Food
Pairing wine and food is an art form, but it’s also a science. There are many factors to consider when pairing wine and food, including:
Balance flavours. You want your food and drink to complement each other rather than compete for attention on your palate. If you have a dish with strong flavours like spicy sausage or garlic, choose a lighter white wine that won’t overpower the dish’s flavour profile.
On the flip side, if you’re eating something mild like chicken breast in cream sauce (or even fish), then go ahead and pick up something bolder like red wine or rosé-they’ll stand up nicely against those milder dishes’ subtler tastes.
Choose wines based on body type-light bodied versus full bodied-as well as intensity of flavour; this will help ensure that whatever you’re drinking goes well with what’s already on your plate.
Understanding the Different Wine Regions
There are many different wine regions in the world, but you can start with these six:
- Napa Valley (California)
- Sonoma County (California)
- Barossa Valley (Australia)
- Rioja (Spain)
Bordeaux wines are typically made from a blend of different grape varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Bordeaux wines are known for their complexity, depth, and aging potential, and are often described as having flavours of blackcurrant, cedar, and tobacco.
Wines from Burgundy are typically produced in small quantities and are highly sought after by wine collectors. Burgundy wines are known for their delicate flavours and aromas, with Pinot Noir wines having notes of cherry, raspberry, and earthy undertones; while Chardonnay wines have notes of citrus, green apple, and mineral undertones.
Napa Valley wines are often described as having bold, fruit-forward flavors, with Cabernet Sauvignon wines having notes of blackberry, cassis, and vanilla, and Chardonnay wines having notes of tropical fruit, butter, and oak.
Sonoma County wines are often described as having a more rustic and earthy character than Napa Valley wines, with Pinot Noir wines having notes of cherry, cranberry, and spice, and Chardonnay wines having notes of apple, pear, and mineral undertones.
The Barossa Valley is one of the most historic wine producing regions in Australia. Barossa Valley wines are known for their powerful, ripe and fruity flavours, with aromas of blackberry, dried currant, mocha, and tobacco, and a meaty and peppery character. They are also often higher in alcohol than similar wines from around the world.
Rioja wines are made primarily from the Tempranillo grape variety, which gives the wine a medium to full body with flavours of red berries, vanilla and leather.
Of course there are many more wines from around the world, and depending on where you are you might not have access to all of these wines. But start building your understanding of wines by sampling as many as you can from around the world, and taking notes.
Learning About Wine Varietals
When it comes to wine tasting, you’ll need to have a nose (and palate) to pick up the clues of the wines you’re tasting. Again, there are lots of variables, but you can get the gist of the variety by picking up on a few things.
- Cabernet Sauvignon: This is a red wine that’s full-bodied and has a dark colour, with flavours of blackcurrant, cedar and tobacco.
- Pinot Noir: This light-coloured red wine has flavours of cherry and raspberry, as well as hints of spice and earthiness.
- Chardonnay: A white wine with a light yellow colour that’s made from grapes grown in France or California; it’s often used as an ingredient in Champagne cocktails because it pairs well with sparkling water or soda pop!
- Riesling: A German white grape variety that produces fruity wines with floral notes that are perfect for summertime drinking (or anytime!).
The best way to build your wine vocabulary is by testing out your own wine palate. Make a habit of taking tasting notes whenever you buy a bottle of wine, and see if you can tell a wine’s variety or origin just from the taste.
Discovering Different Wine Aging Processes
Of course there are different ways to age the wine, which can help the flavours develop even more. The different wine aging processes can include:
- Aging in oak barrels.
- Aging on lees.
- Bottle aging (also known as maturation or barrel aging).
- Malolactic fermentation, which is the conversion of malic acid to lactic acid by bacteria that occurs when wine is stored in anaerobic conditions for a long period of time
While many wines are barely aged, for example cheaper bottles of wine, some of the more premium bottles will likely be barrel or bottle aged.
Oak aging obviously imparts some tones from the barrels into the wine itself. While bottle aging will allow the flavours in the wine to develop, making for a much more complex flavour profile.
The best way to understand how the flavour affects the wine? Drink more wine!
Knowing How to Read a Wine Label
The label on a wine bottle will obviously contain a lot of information, which you can use to expand your knowledge of the wine and it’s origin. There is obviously a lot anyone can learn about wine, but starting by taking an interest in what is written on the bottle and the details of the tasting profile can help you build your own vocabulary.
The most obvious content you’ll see on a wine bottle will include:
- Alcohol content (aka ABV)
- Sulfites, which are preservatives that can cause allergic reactions in some people
- Technical details like residual sugar and pH levels (you don’t have to worry about these)
- Marketing copy, which describes the flavour profile of your wine. This is usually written by someone who works for or owns a winery and may not be entirely accurate-but it’s still helpful!
If you’re looking to improve your wine tasting skills, don’t be afraid to analyse the bottle, especially in the early days.
Eventually, with practice, you’ll be able to identify wines without even reading the label!
Practicing Your Wine Tasting Skills
The best way to practice your wine tasting skills? Drink wine. Take time to savour the wine, and take notes.
The obvious way is to buy a selection of wines that you want to try and take notes when you enjoy them.
Another great way to develop your wine tasting skills is by touring wineries. Or if that’s not really possible, visit your local vintners and do some wine tasting. In many cities around the world, you’ll also find wine tasting classes that can be a great way to level up your understanding of wine, and even a good way to meet people too.
In conclusion, wine tasting is a fun and exciting way to explore the world of wine. By using your senses to evaluate a wine’s characteristics, you can learn more about the varietals, regions and styles that make this beverage so unique.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced wine lover, there’s always something new to learn about the world of wine. So why not explore it for yourself?