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How to Taste Wine

By Published On: April 17th, 2022

Tasting wine is an experience to savor.

Properly honoring the effort, expense, and expertise it took to grow and produce a wine  — not to mention the millennia of traditions and history that preceded and influenced it—calls for more than a knock-it-back approach.

At the same time, tasting wine should ultimately be a pleasure and something you look forward to, not a test you’re nervous about passing. 

Doing both at the same time gets easier with practice. 

Here’s a good way to get new friends and family into wine:

Find a comfortable, quiet, and neutral place to taste. You’ll want to avoid strongly scented areas because extraneous odors can mask a wine’s true aromas. Have clean glassware  and serve your wine at a proper temperature (room to cellar for reds, slightly chilled for whites and rosé). 

Next, evaluate the color of the wine in your glass. Look at it from above, hold the glass to a light, swirl it, and observe the range of colors within the glass. After some time, you’ll be able to distinguish a Syrah (deep purple) from  a Sangiovese (lighter red, brickish in color). 

Now, evaluate the aromas. Swirl the glass, then take a sniff. Assess what you’re smelling. Fruit? Is it apples, black fruit, red fruit, tropical fruit? Wild berries, freshly picked peaches? You may also notice floral notes, herbs, baking or culinary spices, perhaps even smoke, tobacco, vanilla, or meat. There are three types of aromas: primary (from grapes, mostly fruits, herbs, flowers); secondary (from the production process, often nuts, cheese, or beer); tertiary (from aging in bottle or oak, generally spices, vanilla, wood, tobacco). If you smell something musty, that’s a sign the wine may be corked. It’s rare, but it happens. 

Now, it’s time to taste! (Finally, right?) Let the flavors dance on the tongue before swallowing. Compare the flavors to the ones you noted from the aromas. Are they the same? Also look for balance: sweet, sour (acidity), salt, and bitter should all play well together. Taste for the harmony of flavors but also layers of complexity. Wine should be a symphony on your palate, so listen for all of the players. 

Finally, it’s time to think. You’ve been doing this all along as you assess the look, aroma, and taste. What do you think now? Do you like this wine? How does it compare to other wines you’ve tasted      from the same grape or region? What kinds of food do you think it would or wouldn’t go with?

Related: Taste the Past and Future at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

One of our favorite ways to taste is with friends. It’s fun to compare notes, but even as you analyze wine, the process enjoying should be social and joyful. Knowing and understanding more only deepens that delight.

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