We've all tasted wine, whether at a winery, a wine bar, or after ordering a bottle at a restaurant. We swirl and slurp, but do we really know what we're doing? Following these few simple steps can help you get the most out of your wine tasting experience.
Look at the wine. Yes, wine tasting starts with the eyes. Tilt the glass to observe the color gradient. It's helpful to hold the glass against a white background, like a white tablecloth or white napkin. Though color isn't necessarily indicative of quality, it can tell you something about the age of the wine. White wines become darker with time. Red wines tend to become more brownish in color as they age, and can sometimes collect a small amount of harmless sediment. An older red wine will also be more translucent than a younger one. Check for bits of cork floating in the wine--if they are there, they could indicate that the wine is corked, or has oxidized and gone bad.
Smell the wine. Smell is actually a large component of what we sense as taste, so of course wine tasting includes the use of your nose! Take a quick whiff to get a first impression (and make sure it hasn't gone bad). Swirl the wine and take another sniff, observing if the aroma changes as the wine oxidizes. If you're trying to teach yourself to better appreciate wine, it's helpful to use descriptive adjectives. They don't have to be the ones you always see on the backs of wine bottles. Use whatever comes to mind, whether it's "woodsy," "mushroomy," or "kinda-like-Mom's-pot-roast-y." Smell again, this time with your nose deep in the glass. Note your second impression. Swirl and take another deep sniff. Did the aroma change as you smelled and swirled?
Taste the wine. There are three phases to the actual tasting: attack, evolution, and finish. First, take a small sip and roll it around your tongue, exposing the wine to all your taste centers. The attack phase is the initial impression the wine makes, built of four parts: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity, and sugar. A good wine is balanced, meaning that one of these parts will not strike you as dominant over the rest. Take another small sip. This is the evolution phase, the wine's actual taste on your palate. If you're drinking a red wine, you might start to notice fruit tastes, like fig, berry, or plum, spices like cinnamon or pepper, or other tastes like wood or smoke. If it's a white, you might notice tastes of apple, pear, flowers, butter, herbs, or honey. Do describe the wine to yourself. Don't be limited by the words you think are wine-appropriate--go with your instincts. Finally, experience the finish--the lasting impression the wine leaves you with. How long does the taste linger? Was the wine light-bodied (thin like water) or full-bodied (thick like milk)? Most importantly, does the finish make you want another sip?
Note your overall impression of the wine. Write down a few of the adjectives you thought of. Rate it from one to ten. Notes which foods the wine went well with, or foods you think it might go well with. Keeping a small notebook can be a great help the next time you're planning a dinner party or pondering the wine aisle. You might even get inspired to host a blind wine tasting party for your next gathering.
Enjoy the rest of the wine. You didn't open that bottle for three sips!