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How to Taste Like a Pro!

Have you ever found yourself enjoying some wine with friends or coworkers, and there is this one guy that knows (or pretends to know) how to properly taste the wine? If that has ever intimidated you or kept you from wanting to voice your opinion about wine, keep reading to learn about what to look for and how to taste like a professional!

The only tool we need to taste wine is the glass. Its design is based on two critical characteristics. First of all, the stem of the glass allows easy grip without obstructing the view of the wine. It also prevents us from spoiling our glass aesthetically with fingerprints. We want to admire its colour, after all! The stem can also prevent the warmth from our hands influencing the temperature of a chilled white wine or rosé. Secondly, the large opening of the glass allows the wine to properly interact with the air, allowing us to properly assess the aromatic character of the wine. We pour the wine into the bottom third of the glass, and in the upper empty space we can enjoy the richness of its aromas.

The characteristics of the wine that we analyze in a wine tasting are the appearance, aroma and palate. Let's take a closer look at each of these steps.

Appearance

One of the main things that we consider in a wine’s appearance is its colour. The colour gives us a variety of information, including an indication of its age, the region and climate it comes from, and the grape quality. Wine clarity can indicate a proper wine, and good clarity and beautiful colour can inadvertently increase our expectations of the wine.

Other characteristics of the wine appearance that we consider are:

-Clarity: clear, hazy
-Intensity of the colour: pale, medium, deep
-Shade:
  • white wines: green, lemon, gold, amber, brown
  • rosé wines: pink, salmon, orange
  • red wines: purple, ruby, garnet, tawny, brown

-Other observations: size and rate of bubble release (in the case of sparkling and semi-sparkling wines), legs/tears, sediment deposit, and pétillance.

 Aroma

The next step in assessing a wine is to examine its aroma. In wine, this is sometimes called its nose. To do this, we must inhale the air at the top of the glass through our nose, without swirling the glass. When we do this we perceive just a small percentage of the aromas of wine, and it gives us a quick impression. Then, we slowly swirl the wine in the glass to help liberate the aromas. Now we can take many, deep, continuous inhalations from the nose, which we place very close to the surface of the wine. In that way, we perceive most of the aromas of wine.

In order for our brains to detect the wine aromas, the aroma molecules are drifted from the air and removed from the surface of the wine. Inhalation through the nose gathers the molecules in the "olfactory centre" located at the top of the nostrils. A sequence of chemical reactions sends a message to the "olfactory centre" of the brain. The brain compares the information it received with what is already in its memory to determine what it is perceiving. From our daily life, we have many different memories of many different smells. Smell is one of the strongest senses associated with our memory, and when we smell a wine we ​​can recognize all kinds of familiar things. Although we often may recognize a smell, it takes training to really identify what it is that we are smelling. With practice, we can create an "aromatic data bank" which will help us in all future wine tastings.

What characteristics of aromas are we looking for?

-Condition: clean or faulty
-Intensity of the aromas: light, medium, pronounced
-Presence or absence of defective odors: ethyl acetate, cork, sulfuric anhydride, hydrogen sulfide, mold, oil, plastic etc.
-Aroma characteristics:
primary: aromas derived from the grapes, so called varietal aromas
secondary: aromas formed during the alcoholic fermentation
Tertiary: aromas created during the maturation and aging of the wine
-Development: youthful, developing, fully developed, tired

Palate

Finally it is time to taste the wine. We take small sips that we swirl around our mouth so that we can fully taste the wine. Humans are able to perceive sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami (savoury). The organ of taste perception is our tongue, which has sensitive papillae which contain the taste buds. This stimulus triggers a "reaction arc" directed at the brain, which allows the nature of the stimulus to be investigated. To increase our ability to taste properly we can inhale a bit of air as we are tasting the wine. Inhaling air between our teeth while a small amount of wine is left on the tongue causes the volatile molecules of the liquid to be liberated. Rotating the wine around in our mouth and "chewing" the wine can also help because the friction of the wine between the tongue and the palate allows us to better understand its structure. Lastly, when tasting wine properly you must spit the wine. I know it seems like a waste, but you can much more accurately assess a wine when you do not actually consume it. This is especially important if you will be tasting multiple wines, because consuming too much alcohol will definitely impair your judgement. 

What characteristics of taste do we perceive and by what mechanisms?

-Sweetness. The perception of sweet taste takes place on the tip of the tongue. Depending on the concentration of the sugar, this perception can also take place inside the lips. A wine can be dry, off-dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, and sweet.
-Acidity. The perception of acidic taste shows up as a sting on the sides of the tongue and inside the cheeks. A wine can be low, medium or high in acidity.
-Tannins. These are identified not as a taste but as a sensation. Often tannins give a feeling of dryness in your mouth, and they can also be bitter and astringent. A wine can be low, medium or high in tannins.
-Alcohol. This is the concentration of ethanol in a wine. A wine can be low (<11%), medium (11-13,9%) or high (>14%) in alcohol. We can sometimes perceive alcohol as “hotness” or sweetness, and can create a lingering sensation after we spit or swallow the wine.
-Body. The general impression that a wine leaves in our mouth and has to do with the richness of taste, alcohol, tannins, sugars and other factors that can make a wine have a light, medium or full body.
-Finish. The aftertaste, which has to do with the time it takes the taste imprint of a wine in the mouth after drinking it. Short, medium and long finish.

Wine is a complex. A good wine is an explosion of aromas and flavours, especially when it coexists harmoniously with the food and company that we pair it with. Join Enomotion Wine Club to taste wines alongside us, so that you can practice your skills and then share them with your friends at future social gatherings.