How To Taste Wine

“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.” 

–Benjamin Franklin, Circa 1700’s

The term “Wine Tasting” alone is enough to make you feel classy and dignified. Guzzling down your 5 oz pour like a shot…not so much.

So when someone says they are “wine tasting,” what is it they are looking for exactly?

I mean, we taste coffee, soda, and food.

Wine Tasting 101: How to taste, sip and talk wine

Wine is different. It’s complex…special…an art form almost. Each glass is just a bit different depending on the grape, winemaker, year, soil the grape was grown in, the vessel it went in after fermentation…and those factors are just scratching the surface.

Wine tasting is a full sensory experience and it begins with:


You may not be in the habit of fully inspecting your beverage. When tasting wine, though, you should first look at it. 

You want a clear glass that allows you to really see the color of the wine. The color can give you information regarding the grape, alcohol level, and the vintage ( year) of the wine. For example, a light, pale, ruby-colored Beaujolais wine is probably fairly young ( meaning, you’re drinking it not long after it was bottled). ..and it’s supposed to be that way. 

The color of wine can give you information regarding the grape, alcohol level, and the vintage

A deep, garnet-colored Zinfandel with a little bit of orange around the rim… that one has likely matured a bit in storage and may have some added layers of aromas due to age. These types of wines that develop some leathery, earthy smells are my faves.

When you are observing the wine, tilt it a bit in the glass so you can take a mental note of how intense the color is.

If the rim on a white wine is pale and water-y, the wine is probably very young without much maturation. 

In red wines, the level of color difference between the rim and the core is also a sign of age, but possibly easier to spot than with white wines.  Red wines will develop an orange rim that begins to move towards the core as the wine evolves.

If you set the glass down flat, can you see through to the stem? If you can’t see the stem, you are holding a deep-colored wine, my friend. 

Wine Hack: On a red wine, whether or not you can see the steM can be an indicator of how dark wine is…and, as a result, whether or not it is a full-Bodied wine

The level of color on wine could mean that either you have a big bold red that is high in tannin… or you have a glass of white wine with some age on it. Color can be an indicator of the body, as well. For example, a light, pale, bright sparkly wine is probably fairly young and acidic with a light to medium body. Deeper hued amber whites are likely denser, perhaps aged in oak, and are likely sweeter(think..Sauternes).

Other “sights” to look out for is whether the wine looks “cloudy” or hazy, and how much sediment you may see in the bottle. Side note: Some sediment is common in certain aged wines, but there is a proper way to decant it so you don’t serve it to your guests.


After visually assessing the wine, give it a good whiff. Does it have a strong, pronounced smell or do you really have to get your nose in to get the aromas? A good rule of thumb is to smell before you swirl in the glass. Determine how far from the glass your nose is before you can smell the wine.

The intensity of a wine’s aroma can be an indicator of how strong a flavor the wine will have. how close you have to be to the glass to smell the wine, is a solid trick to determine if the wine has a pronounced, medium, or light aroma intensity

If you can smell the wine as it is being poured from the bottle, it likely has a pronounced aroma intensity. If you really have to get your nose in the glass, odds are the intensity is not as prominent. Gauging the intensity of the aroma can give you a good indication of the intensity on the palette before even taking that first sip.

What tends to confuse many beginners are the types of aromas they are smelling, especially if they hear fellow winos describing them. I mean, Petrol? Why do I want to drink a wine that smells like gasoline?

If you have a nicely aged Riesling…the petrol smell is not off-putting. 

The aromas are caused by the type of grape, how it ripened, the climate it was riped in, how it was fermented and how it was aged. Pair a Chardonnay aged in oak against one that isn’t…you’ll smell what I mean.

So, when you smell the aromas, there are some pretty basic characteristics you could look for —red fruit, black fruit, spice. Sometimes having a wine wheel or chart can help you out when you are just starting to define what you smell.

Now, if you smell something similar to wet cardboard, it’s a sign that the bottle may be bad or ‘corked.’ This is a good indicator that you don’t want to take that first sip. If you do, you will have a dull experience with little to no fruit flavor left. 


Closely aligned to sight and smell, give the wine a good swirl. This will help enhance aromas as the wine in your class gets exposed to oxygen. Also, you should notice some ‘legs’ on the wine…the amount of wine left running down the sides of a glass after swirling. Wines with more pronounced “legs” tend ( though not always) to have higher alcohol levels and will have a denser body and mouthfeel.


FINALLY! You get to take a sip. Don’t guzzle.


Though you may want to…the image above is a big N-O!

Instead, take a slow sip and swish the wine around in your mouth for a moment.

Woman in silhouette sipping wine at sunset by twenty20photos

Some people even try to take in a little bit of air to add oxygen on the tongue to the wine. This takes some talent so you don’t dribble…

But take a note as you sip if the flavors on your tongue differ from the ones you smelled? Does the wine feel heavy or light on your tongue? This is what we would define as body of the wine. Does the wine cause you to salivate right away? If so, you have a high-acid wine. As disgusting as it sounds, the amount of saliva a wine generates is an indicator of acidity. 

After you swallow, how long do desirable flavors stick around? This is how you determine the finish of a wine. Try doing the old-fashioned “one-Mississippi rule. If you can get to five and it still feels happy on your tongue… the wine has a nice, long finish.

Wines are judged, based on their complexity ( the amount of flavors and aromas they bring), their balance ( the alcohol, acidity and aroma intensities all working together) and their finish. When you can consider each aspect of a wine you drink, and take notes, you will be able to determine which wines would be considered “okay” versus “outstanding.” 

All of those ‘judgeable’ characteristics can be discovered if you move through these 4 S’s of Wine-tasting, you will be well on your way to being able to appreciate what you are drinking and look knowledgeable while doing so. 

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