It may feel like you’re a world away from their extensive knowledge. Still, it is actually quite easy to start developing your wine tasting skills, sipping and swilling with the best of them to identify wine characteristics.
Table of contents
- Wine Tasting at Home
- Step #1: See
- Step #1: Smell
- Step #3: Taste
- Wine Tasting at Home
- Writing Your own Wine Review
- Learn from the Wine Masters
In fact, if you are already a wine enthusiast, then chances are you’re halfway there. You know what you like, and you appreciate this wonderful drink, so all it takes is following a few key wine tasting at home tips to start refining your palate and sounding like a pro. One of the wonderful things about the wine world is that practice makes perfect when it comes to tasting.
Wine Tasting at Home
Wine tasting is very psychological; one must learn to master their senses and concentrate enough to identify subtle nuances at the nose and the palate. It is no secret that you will need to employ considerable time on it along with a sizable budget. Taking a wine tasting class equips you with basic skills. But who’s complaining? It is wine!
There is a simple method of three basic steps that the experts use to start identifying wine characteristics. It’s simple enough to follow and is all about engaging your senses, starting from the moment your glass is poured: see, smell, taste, and conclusion.
Step #1: See
When you pour a glass of wine, the first impression you have is visual, and you can tell a lot from looking at things like color, opacity, and viscosity. The best way to start is by tilting your glass and looking through it at an angle against a white background. This way, you will see how the wine color changes towards the rim, making it a bit easier to spot some of the following elements.
If it is a white wine, you want it to look clear and bright. Then you need to analyze, is it a golden color or a pale lemony green? This can indicate the grape type, and it is also worth keeping in mind that white wines will also generally deepen in color with age.
Red wines promise just as much variety, with much lighter wines such as pinot noir and rich reds like a big, bold shiraz. In general, if it has a violet hue, it is a younger wine, while a rustier, orangey color means it is older.
For rosé, the lighter, more delicate pinks reflect a more delicate flavor, while in sparkling wine, you want to have a look at the bubbles – smaller ones are a sign of good quality.
Check out those legs! Actually, please don’t. The correct term is “tears.” Tip the glass to the side, then see how the droplets roll down the surface; a higher density of droplets means the wine has a higher level of alcohol, while slower-moving droplets generally indicate a higher sugar level.
Step #1: Smell
The aromas you detect in your wine will reveal so much about both the grapes and the winemaking processes used. To release the aromas, it is best to give the wine a swirl (for beginners, the easiest way to do this is by keeping the glass on a flat surface), then place your nose in the glass and take a few short sniffs.
Aroma vs Bouquet
When starting, it can be difficult to discern complex scents. A core concept in wine tasting is three types of aroma: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary. It’s best to start with the broader categories, such as the fruit aromas, when tasting wine. These, along with herb and floral notes, are known as the Primary Aromas and are dependent on the grape used to make the wine.
A beginner can start with some simple fruit flavors. In white wines, you can start with whether you smell tropical fruits (pineapple and mango), citrus fruits (lemon and lime), or stone fruits (peach and apricot). In red wine, look for the scents and flavor of red fruits (cherry and raspberry), or black fruits (blackberry and plum).
A more advanced wine taster would seek out the varietal fingerprints of the grape. E.g., Sauvignon Blanc is herbaceous with a green bell pepper aroma. A Cabernet Sauvignon will have a cedar note in the aroma. A Pinot Noir will have flavors similar to roses petals. This process is covered in the better sommelier courses.
The secondary aroma is harder to detect and comes from fermentation and winemaking. They can include familiar smells such as fresh bread from the yeast. In contrast, in white wines such as chardonnay, which have been through a second malolactic fermentation, you may detect buttery and caramel notes. It also includes flavors derived from oak barrels, which include vanilla, clove, coconut, and cinnamon.
Tertiary Aromas come from aging the wine in both barrel and bottle and are often described as bouquets rather than aromas. They include blanched almond and dried tobacco, caused by the slight oxygenation of the wine as it ages. As red wine ages, you may notice more orchard and tree fruit notes, especially citrus.
Step #3: Taste
Finally, it’s time to actually taste the wine!
Wine tasting will reveal a whole other set of characteristics. How does it taste? What are the intensity of tannins (in reds) and acidity (in reds and whites)? Is there any residual sugar? How is the mouth-feel? Is it lush and full-bodied? Is it light and austere? And how long is the finish?
Our taste buds can detect salty, sour, sweet, and bitter flavors. As you take a sip, try drawing the wine into your mouth to aerate the wine and help release flavors. After you swallow, breathe out through your nose.
Acidity & Tannin
You may notice that the first flavors you taste are similar to the aromas you have already identified. Now it’s time to dig deeper. Is it a lush wine, or is there acidity? Is there some residual sugar? You are highly unlikely to encounter saltiness, but bitterness is common in red wines. It comes in the form of astringency from the tannins.
You should pay attention to a wine’s viscosity. Does the wine feel light or heavy in the mouth? Think of water and how easily it moves in the mouth with a light body: “body” is a term used to describe the mouthfeel. Then think of skim milk, full-fat milk, and cream; these can often be good examples for detecting the three types of “body” a wine can have.
You can expect something like a light, refreshing Riesling to be light-bodied, while Chardonnay has more of a medium body, and Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are more full-bodied.
Wine Tasting at Home
As a wine enthusiast, you will be delighted to know that you need plenty of practice to develop your palate and hone your wine tasting skills. Each time you want to try a new wine, go through each stage and see how you can start to separate the aroma and flavors over time. Make notes on the different wines you try, and you will start to build up a memory of references.
Train Your Senses
One other trick is to take the time to smell fruits, herbs, and spices; then, when it comes to tasting a wine, the aroma will trigger each product’s memory and help you identify them more quickly. Experts also credit enhancing these skills with greater enjoyment of not just wine but also food, ensuring you will have a new appreciation for the whole culinary world.
Read Wine Reviews
Once you’ve learned to identify different aromas and flavors, it is then a case of describing them, which is a whole different skill. It takes practice to put into words the sensation each wine gives. Start by reading wine tasting notes to see the language the experts use, try to describe other flavors perhaps as you eat, and get used to using a different kind of vocabulary. You might even want to meet with friends, try wines together, make tasting notes, and describe characteristics.
Writing Your own Wine Review
No wine school worth their salt will allow you to walk out before knowing how to write down your findings and deductions properly. This is also where the “Conclusion” bit comes in.
Notes should follow the sequence of tasting. You don’t have to stop at every instance to scribble furiously, but you can achieve this at the end of the tasting while you are still contemplating how the wine left you feeling.
We cannot stress the importance of good notes enough. Not if you want to build a reasonable memory bank for your palate! Find a wine tasting notebook or the writing pad app on your phone and jot down minute notes. Be sure to score them so you know how well you enjoyed the wine after all.
Along with other wine training institutions, the National Wine School gives its students a comprehensive SAT that can be used universally to describe wine. This is because, left to our own devices, we are capable of utter chaos. Wine is extremely subjective, and each person expresses unique experiences with it.
Learn from the Wine Masters
Finally, why not learn from the experts? The National Wine School (NWS) offers wine qualifications recognized across the country. You can start small with the Foundation Program. Then if you’re really enjoying yourself, you can work your way through more levels right up to a Level 4 Diploma. Who knows? You could even become one of the elite Masters in Wine.
It all starts with an interest and a little bit of practice. So uncork, sip, swirl and sniff. You’ll soon find yourself developing a palate to rival any sommelier.