Wine tasting follows four basic steps:
- Look: making a visual inspection of the wine under neutral lighting.
- Smell: identifying the aromas of the wine by taking a whiff from the wine glass
- Taste: accessing the flavors and taste structure of the wine (whether sour, sweet, bitter)
- Savor/conclude: build a mental profile of the wine.
Conditioning the wine tasting environment
A good tasting condition is essential to the wine tasting process. To get a clear sense of the aromas and flavors of the wine, the right tasting conditions should first be created. This is because the circumstances surrounding the wine tasting affects the impression gotten from the wine. Factors such as the prevalent smells in the room, the residual taste of the food or drink that was had before tasting the wine, the type of wine glass used in serving the wine, and the temperature of the wine all influence the wine tasting experience.
The tasting conditions should be neutralized as much as possible so as to allow the wine to stand on its own without being influenced by external factors. If there is a strong smell nearby, you could walk away as much as you can so as to find some neutral air. The wine should also be conditioned before tasting. For instance, if the wine is a bit too cold, you could warm it up by placing your palm around the bowl of the wine glass. If the glass seems musty, give it a quick rinse by swelling some of the wine in it. Try not to rinse with water.
Evaluation by sight
After establishing a neutral environment for your wine tasting it is now time to start the actual wine tasting process. The first thing to do would be to examine the wine in your glass. To effectively carry out a visual examination of the wine, the glass should be about one-third full. You don’t really need to spend more than five minutes on making a visual evaluation of your wine. This is where you check the color, opacity, and viscosity (referred to as wine legs) of the wine.
The opacity and color of wine give hints on its acidity, alcohol and sugar content, the potential grape varieties used and climate where the grapes were grown, and the approximate age of the wine. As red wines age, they tend to lose color and get more transparent. White wines increase in overall pigmentation and become more yellow and brown as they age. The alcohol and sugar content of wines could be detected by wine legs. Thicker and more viscous legs indicate a high alcohol and residual sugar content of the wine.
The following steps should be loosely followed to visually examine the wine.
Straight angle view
To get a sense of the color depth, so as to get a clue of the density and saturation of the wine, look down into the glass and hold it to the light. Give it a tilt, so that the wine rolls toward the glass rim and allow you to see not just the dark center but the complete color range of the wine.
Viewing the wine through the sides of the glass shows how clear the wine is. A murky wine indicates fermentation or chemical imbalances. It could also be that the wine is unfiltered or just contains sediments that come from the wine cork. A good wine looks brilliant and clear and shows some sparkle.
Tilting the glass to get the wine to thin out towards the rim gives clues to the weight and age of the wine. White wine that shows a tawny or brown color, or red wine that shows an orange or rusty brick color, indicates an older wine or wine that has been oxidized and which might be far above its prime.
After taking the steps above, the next thing to do would be to give the wine a good swirl and observe if it forms legs or tears that run down the sides of the glass. Good legs show more alcohol and glycerin content which indicate bigger, riper, and denser wine.
Evaluation by smell
The aroma of wine tells almost everything about the wine, including the origin of the wine, the grape variety and climate where they were grown, the age of the wine, and whether or not the wine was oak-aged. Wine aromas fall into three categories. A primary aroma comes from the type of grape and the climate where it is grown (fruit flavors in wine are primary aromas). A secondary aroma comes from the fermentation process. A tertiary aroma comes from the aging of the wine.
To evaluate the wine by smell, give the glass a swirl and take a series of quick, short sniffs over the rim of the wine glass. Allow the olfactory information to filter through your brain and make a mental evaluation of the smell. You might perceive some off-aromas (if the wine is going bad), fruit aromas, floral, leave, herb, spice, and vegetable aromas, and wine barrel aromas.
Evaluation by taste
The taste of the wine indicates its style, region, and vintage. Some details to pay attention to include the sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol, and body.
Take a little sip into your mouth and suck on it, as if pulling it through a straw so as to aerate the wine and circulate it through your mouth. Again you would get a hint of a wide range of barrel, mineral, herb, fruit, flower, and other flavors. Aside from identifying the flavors, the taste buds detect whether the wine is balanced, evolved, harmonious, complex, and complete. A balanced wine has a good proportion of its basic flavor components (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). A harmonious wine has a seamless integration of all its flavors. Complex wines evolve even while they are being tasted. A complete wine has a lingering and satisfying finish.
After going through all the above processes, the wine profile is summed up. In a situation where you blind taste, this is the stage where you attempt to guess which wine it is you taste.