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Wine 101 - How to Taste Wine pt.2
Sep 03, 2012

Each year I speak to hundreds of new wine drinkers. Well, actually they may not be new wine drinkers, but they are people who really want to know more about wine. They want to understand wine, taste with increased awareness and be able to discuss wine in a knowledgeable manner - without having to become a sommelier. 

I'm glad you've joined me. Remember WineDiva is a snob-free zone!

Wine 101 - Step 3 smelling your wine

Do not skip this step. Drinking a wine without smelling it is like going to the Louvre and missing the Mona Lisa. It's like visiting Florence and skipping the Uffizi... It is an absolute must in the enjoyment of wine, and... where you will learn the most about wine.

If you skip this step, you may as well drink vodka. It'll get you there faster, and cheaper.

Why did I tell you to stop at the end of Step 2?
Because I know you want to practice your swirling technique - but just hold tight for a moment. Before you ever swirl a wine, take a sniff. 
Yep, stick your nose right in the glass and inhale deeply. Does the wine smell good? Like fruit and other things you'd like to taste and smell? Excellent.

But, does it smell musty, dirty or like a pile of old books stored in the cellar too long?
Send it back or put the cork back in and return it. The wine could be off or corked (especially if it does have a cork and not a screwcap closure). Although it won't make you sick, it won't be enjoyable.

Now, if all is good, you may proceed. Practice your swirling technique on the table - even professionals such as myself have been known to paint a few walls with an exuberant swirl in a less than suitable glass.

Swirling adds oxygen to the wine, which allows all those yummy aromas to open up and leap out of the glass to your waiting olfactory. 

Take another big sniff or five small ones - whatever works for you.

Let's go back to the colour of the wine. Does the colour of the wine you are currently smelling correspond to what you saw? It might now always, but this is just the basics.

White wine: do you smell lemons and apples - more delicate but crisp aromas? Do you smell ripe pineapple and tropical fruit - sweet and rich? If the wine does have quite a lot of golden colour, you may smell (in addition to tropical fruit) some vanilla and caramel, which would reinforce that the wine probably has oak contact. Oak contact imparts sweet spice, vanilla and caramel or butterscotch aromas - yum!

Red wine: similarly, does your red smell like strawberries, raspberries or red cherry or more like black cherry, rich, ripe plums or black berries? Does that match up with the colour of the wine? I would guess it probably does. 

*Don't worry if you cannot smell specific fruit (or other aromas), just get a sense of red fruit or black fruit, white tree fruit (pear, apple, citrus) or tropical fruit.

Well done. Now on to the best part!

Expand your wine knowledge - get personal wine recommendations here

Step 4  - tasting your wine

Yippee - time to taste!

Okay, review time. Colour...check, aromas...check. Now, let's see if everything you've so far discovered in the glass, corresponds with what you're tasting.

How to taste. Take some wine into your mouth and let it sit on your tongue without swallowing. Pull some air into your mouth (carefully, don't choke!) and let it flow across the wine. The air will be sucked into the back of your throat where it will reconnect with your olfactory and confirm what you are tasting. 

Think about it this way. You have an olfactory memory of thousands upon thousands of aromas, which you have come across and smelled over your lifetime. You may remember penny candies - marshmallow bananas and strawberries or Sen Sens, Double Bubble, Bonnie Bell Root Beer lip gloss, chamomile tea, rain on a spring day, the smell of hay at the stable or the smell of the saddle leather... anything you remember.

What can you actually taste though? 

Sweet, salty, bitter, sour and something called umami (which is less understood, and is an entirely other conversation), are what your taste buds can decipher.

Proof. When you have a cold and your olfactory is obstructed, you assume you "cannot taste anything". The reality is, you cannot smell anything. It severely inhibits your enjoyment of food. Please revisit the comment I made above in STEP 3 - the importance of smelling your wine!

Next, take another sip of wine and chew on it a bit - move it around and swish it across your tongue and inside of your cheeks and again, take more air into your mouth allowing it to mingle with the wine. You'll find that this will give you an even greater sense of what you are tasting, including sweetness (don't be afraid of some sweetness (fruit is sweet after all), sourness, bitterness and acidity.
Letting the wine swirl around in your mouth and against your tongue will also help you weigh it.
Weight: Is it light-bodied like water, medium-bodied like milk or full-bodied like cream? 

Red wines are generally fuller bodied than white wines, but not always.
The texture against your tongue is also important. Texture: Is it snappy, slightly sharp and crisp and does the reaction make your mouth-water (higher-acidity), is it creamy (perhaps like a full-bodied Chardonnay), is it silky (like a beautiful Pinot Noir), is it supple (like a full-bodied but plush Merlot) or is it rough or chewy (a more robust red wine with tannin).

Think about all of these things every time you taste a wine. Each time you purchase a new bottle. Each time a friend pours a wine at a dinner party, each time you order a glass or bottle in a restaurant - take these steps, at least for the first half glass you drink.

This is how you build, what I call, your wine rolodex

Your wine rolodex is where you begin storing your memories of previous wines you've experienced. You'll begin to notice similarities in wines you have had previously and start to draw conclusions to what you are currently encountering. Finding similarities in varieties is the best way to learn about wine first. The grassiness of Sauvignon Blanc, the peppery quality of Shiraz/Syrah, the unique fragrance of Gewürztraminer...

The more you taste, the more your rolodex grows and the more confident you will become about what you like and what is in your glass!

Let's recap

Look - How intense is the colour - what does that colour tell you to expect?
Smell - Do the aromas in your glass correspond with what you see? Do you recognize any aromas from previous wines you've experienced?
Taste - Swirl and suck in some air. Are the flavours and aromas in sync? What are the weight and texture like? Also, how long do the flavours linger on your palate - length is a good thing!

Spend some time thinking about these steps each time you experience a wine and you will become a confident wine aficionado!


Don't know where to start? WineDiva can help. Start rating wines you have tasted and I can send you recommendations for more wines you will like, based on your palate - WineDiva is the only one who can do this. But you have to start rating wines to give me a sense of what you like! Here's how to do it...

​Coming up - What to Expect in Your Wine!  what are some classic characteristics of your favourite wines and varieties.

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