The Drync.com Wine Blog

How to Taste a Glass of Wine

February 20, 2015

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Wine tasting: beloved by some as an art form, loathed by some that consider it to be total nonsense. While we agree that it can, like any innocent fun activity, be taken to extremes, learning how to properly taste a glass of wine properly is easy, fun, and goes a long way in terms of helping you find even more wines to enjoy.

Here are the 4 easy steps to have you tasting wine like a seasoned veteran in the meantime. Pro-tip: Use this guide to help write tasting notes for the wines that you try. This is a great opportunity to update the wines in your cellar as well.

1. See

You’ve probably heard of this one, and in fact seen serious wine aficionados holding up their glass of wine to the light, swirling it gently, talking about legs or tears. The sight of a wine can tell us three very important things:

Age: As red wine gets older it tends to lose color, fading from a vibrant, shiny red to a more muted orange tone. Alternatively, white wines get darker with age. Older wines tend to have more complex, layered flavors with more secondary and tertiary characteristics.
Treatment of the wine: Some wines are super shiny – when they catch the light it’s almost as if they wink back at you. Other wines, can be cloudy or a bit dull. This typically has to do with the level of treatment a wine undergoes before bottling.Some winemakers prefer to filter and fine their wines of yeasts and additives, creating wines that are pure and clear. Other winemakers prefer a more natural approach, leaving everything in the bottle, yielding wines that are a little more unusual (think good funk).
Will you like it? Believe it or not, you can judge a book by its cover. Tend to love light delicate Pinots? Steer clear of reds that you can barely see through. Love luscious, buttery whites? Make sure that your pour is golden yellow rather than watery white.

So now that we know the why, here’s the how: Have decent lighting, and ideally a white napkin or a piece of paper to hold behind the glass. This will help identify color and depth more effectively.

2. Swirl

Yeah, this is another step which can seem pretentious, but is actually completely legit. Swirling the glass opens up the aromas in the glass. Plus, you can watch post-swirl wine dripping down the side of the glass. These are the legs or the tears of a wine. If it simply sheets down the glass, you have a light-bodied wine, and if it moves like molasses, you are likely sipping something more full-bodied and higher in alcohol.

3. Sniff

There are different estimations, but up to 80% of a wine’s flavor comes from the smell. So what are you looking for? First of all is a wine delicate and subtle, super aromatic or somewhere in between? Do you have a preference for one over the other? Now how to articulate what you are smelling. Wines can produce a wide variety of aromas, and some of them are somewhat subjective. However, when you are getting started it helps to bucket smells into different categories. I like to think of tasting a wine as taking a mental trip to my local farmer’s market.

Let’s start in the produce aisle of my favorite grocery store. Since wine is made from grapes, it stands to reason that the first thing one smells will be fruit.

Flavor family Specific Fruit Example wine
Citrus Lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit Example: Australian Riesling really reminds us of lime peel.
Stone Fruit (aka anything with a pit) Green apples, yellow apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricot Chardonnay from Chablis tastes like biting into a fresh Granny Smith apple.
Tropical Mango, Pineapple, Guava, Passionfruit, Banana, Lychee Oaked Chardonnay is known for tropical fruit characteristics.
Berries Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries Cru Beaujolais is reminiscent of strawberries, and a nice tart Burgundian Pinot Noir often has notes of cranberries.
Other red and black fruits Cherries, currant, grape (yep, that’s a valid description), red plum, black plum Red cherries is a hallmark of Sangiovese-based wines like Chianti Classico. Currant and cassis are the classic fruit of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Fresh herbs Cilantro, basil, rosemary, chive, dill, tarragon Riojas can have a hint of dill on the finish. Provençal reds and those from the Languedoc-Roussillon, often are described as Garrigue-y, Garrigue being the bushy herbal plants that grow near the Mediterranean coast.
Vegetable Bell pepper, fennel, mushrooms Under-ripe Cabernet Sauvignon often has a bell pepper component.

We then take a walk over to the the spices and dried fruit department.

Family Characteristics Example Wine
Nuts Hazelnuts, cashews, almonds Italian whites often have a bitter almond oil characteristic.
Dried Spices White pepper, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, vanilla(bean or extract). Gruner Veltliner is known for it’s white pepper like finish.
Dried fruit Currants, raisins, dried apricot, prunes Older wines often take on these tertiary characteristics of dried rather than fresh fruit.
Other Coffee, Espresso Banyuls, Sherry, Port all have that lovely bitter sweet component associated with coffee.

Sometimes I swing by the bakery, the dairy case, or the flower department. And of course there are the impulse buys by the cash register.

Family Characteristics Example Wine
White flowers Lilly, honeysuckle, gardenia Honeyuckle is a classic aroma for Chenin Blanc from the Loire valley.
Red Flowers Violet, roses, lavender Gewürztraminer smells like walking into a flower shop, but roses are the predominant flower.
Other Grass, hay, tobacco Grass is a textbook note for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Bakery Yeast, brioche, fresh bread, toast, smoke Vintage Champagnes often have a toasty note.
Dairy Milk, cheese, butter Great Champagne often has a creamy quality on the nose, and oaked Chardonnay os often described as buttery.
Candy Chocolate, butterscotch, toffee, caramel, jolly rancher Carignan can have a Jolly Rancher quality, as can good rosés. Our favorite Malbecs have a wonderful chocolatey note.

Then I go outside to the parking lot… No for real, this is still a part of the analogy. One of the more challenging elements to detect in a wine is mineral (seriously, when was the last time you licked a rock). However, if you’ve ever been outside in the summertime in a rainstorm, the ground can have a smell. That’s mineral! If you are active hiker or like the beach this might be easy enough to pick up. Mineral is all about where the wine has been grown rather than the grape variety, and it is only pronounced in some wines.

Mineral Example Wine
Chalk Champagne
Gravel Left-bank Cabernet Sauvignon-driven Bordeaux
Flint Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc
Salt Muscadet (This region sits right on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Loire Valley river)
Graphite (AKA pencil lead) Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley
Earth or Earthy Bordeaux and Portugusse reds

Occasionally, we will smell something funky that should definitely not be there, which is typically of a bottle flaw. None of these are dangerous (Unless you are allergic to things that are not delicious):

Aroma Flaw Solution
Wet cardboard or wet basement Cork taint Replace the bottle – cork taint only infects 1 in 10 selections
Barnyard Funk Brettanomyoces (AKA Brett) A little brett is actually awesome – it lends earthy complexity to the wines. Opt for a different selection if that is the only smell you’re getting.
Vinegar Oxidation or volatile acidity Opt for a different selection

4. Sip

Hooray! We are finally at the fun part – actually tasting the wine. And when you do finally take a taste (because you are probably thirsty by now), make sure to do it right: no baby-bird sips, no slug and swallow. Take a proper mouthful and let it sit on the palate. if you are feeling really ambitious, go for a little slurp (yes, it sounds gnarly, but it does in fact open up the wine, and allow you to find a few new flavors). Some things to look out for:

Body: Let the wine site on your palate for a moment. Does it full like skim, 2% or whole milk? This is the analogy for light, medium, and full-bodied wines.
Acidity: Does this wine make your mouth water like sucking on a lemon? That’s acidity talking! Some descriptors and their definitions:
“Tart”= Tastes like sucking on a lemon or lime. I personally love that flavor profile but it’s not for everyone.
“Crisp” = Similar to a granny smith apple.
“Fresh” = Think berries!
“Flabby” = Little to no acidity, similar to a pear.

Tannin: Tannin is the bitter component in wine that dries out your teeth and gums. It is also found in walnuts and tea – try those if you would like to experience tannin outside of the glass. Grape skins and oak are what impart tannins to wine, so you will typically only find them in red wines or oaked whites. Some descriptors to keep in mind:
Low tannin wines can be described as soft, supple or velvety.
Medium tannins can be chewy, firm, or (my favorite) grippy.
High tannin wines will often be termed astringent, hard, or simply tannic.

Sweetness: Sweetness can often be hard to detect in wines, as perception often depends on the level of acidity, tannin, alcohol etc. For most wines they will only range from bone-dry to dry to off-dry. Although a wine might taste fruity or sweet, unless you are drinking a fortified or dessert wine, the sweetest it can be is off-dry. If you are in fact drinking a wine that is fortified, like a port or sherry, or a designated dessert wine (Eiswein or late harvest wines), they can be cateogrized as medium-sweet through sweet and very sweet.

Alcohol: Wines lower in alcohol (under 12.5% alcohol for whites, and under 13.5% for reds) are described as elegant, whereas wines that are higher in alcohol can be described as powerful or (if they are out of balance) hot.

Flavors: Chances are that these are going to be very similar to the aromas, but make note of new components that might pop up.

Balance: Does any one element jump out at you? Meaning, does sugar balance out the acid (think awesome lemonade)?Does the wine drop off in the middle and reappear (Some call this “Hey! Where did my wine go?” experience a donut wine)? Or does everything blend together in one lovely seamless, cohesive whole, where neither acidity, sweetness, or tannin stand out?

Finish: How long do the flavors and sensations of the wine linger in your mouth? The longer the finish, typically the finer the wine.

For some awesome real life tasting notes, check out some examples from our users.

Amy Ullman Marketing Manager Drync Amy Ullman is a sommelier turned digital marketer, who secretly loves the sound of her wine slurping.

Discussion

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