||Wine Tasting 101 - Getting Started, Tips and
often encounter folks interested in wine who lack comfort or confidence
or are even intimidated by their feeling of inadequacy in their wine
knowledge. For those that ask how to learn more about wine the answer
and process is simple -
practice, practice, practice!
This site is to help folks unwindwine!
To share my passion to make wine simpler, easy to learn, understand and
enjoy. One must start somewhere. Start now, or even go back to earlier
wine memories. Use every wine encounter as a learning experience. Start
to develop a consciousness about your wine experience - make at least
mental notes, or even written notes such as a
journal, about what you
see, smell, taste, and
about the wine. What you like and don't like. Start, and then continue
to build a wine inventory of wine sensation memories - those
observations. Over time you'll start to relive and repeat earlier notes
and soon be able to anticipate a wine before you try it!
There are many useful, invaluable reference books and
enjoyable, entertaining books about wine from every perspective. My
wine book library is featured here.
Visiting wine country is another great way to
learn about all aspects of wine. Many of our
wine country experiences
are chronicled here.
Realize that wine encounters are multi-dimensional
- they exist not only in breadth and
depth of color, body, smell, taste, alcohol content, and feel,
but they evolve in
The timing of smelling and tasting - the first few seconds of the wine
on the tongue, across various parts of the tongue, and in the mouth
initially and after it is swallowed all reveal different sensations.
That same wine will evolve throughout the evening as it opens up and
'breaths'. And that same wine will reveal itself differently the next
day and perhaps the day after that! And age-worthy wines will evolve
over years or even decades! See my blog
Collecting and Aging Wine - Buy the Case.
(That's what those
vintage charts area
all about - to help track the age-worthiness and subsequent drinking
window as wines from a given region and vintage mature, or reach and
eventually pass their prime. That window will be different for wines of
different varietals, regions as well as vintages. No wonder it gets
complicated. More on all that below.)
We'll often taste a wine and put it away for later - saving some for
later in the day or evening, the next day, and the day after that! Much
will be revealed in this and patience will often be rewarded! (The
drinking window for a bottle once opened however is days).
Next, another bottle of the same wine from the
same producer from the same vintage will evolve over time and reveal
itself differently as it ages. And finally, other vintages of that same
wine from the same
will reveal themselves differently, at a point in time and over each of
these sensation dimensions and time.
Multiple wines from the same
(or region) from different vintages are known as a 'vertical'.
For example a 'vertical' tasting of Opus One would be a comparison from
the different vintages, such as the 1990, 1991, 1994, and 1995 vintages
of the same wine. Each vintage will have its own characteristics for
for each type of grape or
Examples of gala vertical wine
vertical tasting - An Evening with Angelo Gaja
An evening with
Edouard Moueix - Dominus Vertical Tasting
An evening with Delia Viader
Multiple wines from the
same vintage from a different producer or growing area or
region are called a 'horizontal'
tasting. For example one might do a horizontal tasting of a number of
Napa Valley cabernet sauvignons from the 2004 vintage.
Horizontal Selection of 1981 Bordeaux
from Rick's Cellar
Vertical Selection of Dunn Vineyards
As you encounter more tasting experiences, your 'vocabulary' or
inventory of wine memories or conscious sensations will build, providing
a broader, deeper, richer, more learned, extensive basis for
and comparison. And of course all these dimensions are ever
changing for each wine. And of course every year, each vintage for each
region for each wine starts the process all over again. No wonder it
becomes overwhelming! Hence the need to focus. Keep it simple. Don't try
to master all wines from all regions from all periods. Experiment, find
one you like, focus on that wine type and region, and then later, slowly
branch out from there - same or different varietal, different vintage
era, different producer and so on.
Another reason wine can be intimidating if not overwhelming is the sheer
magnitude of choices - old world,
new world, regions,
vintages - it can be confusing at best. Bordeaux has over fifty
appellations and almost 10,000 producers. Even California's Napa Valley
has seventeen different appellations and close to five hundred
producers. While experimentation is part of the fun, its also valuable
to zero in on what one likes. Once you find a wine that you like, make
note of the identifiers of that particular wine - country, region,
appellation, producer, vintage - (listed in order or
sub-classification). Then, branch out from there within that wine-type
or category. Indeed, having collected and tasted thousands of bottles of
wine over three decades, 95% of our cellar is US, Australian and French
- and the majority of those wines are Napa, South Australian Shiraz, and
Bordeaux - areas of focus naturally gravitating to wines we enjoy. I
find an Italian wine list as bewildering and confounding as the next
person for the most part since that's outside our 'comfort' zone or area
of focus. In the end - its all about enjoyment - at which point it
becomes intimidating or stressful, back off - simply realize your
outside your comfort zone, and carry on!
Wine Types and Wine Glassware
||Ever notice that or wonder
why different wine glasses are of different shapes?
Tests have shown that the shape
and construction of wine glassware can significantly
improve the exposition of the bouquet and/or flavor of
wines. The size and shape of different wine glasses are
meticulously tailored to a particular type of wine and
of grapes in that wine, to showcase its partnered
wine so that flavor and bouquet
are transmitted in a truly "authentic" manner. The shape of the
bowl and its flare are matched to a wine's bouquet and and tasting
profile to present that wine to its maximum potential. the unique shape
of different wine glasses' result in a specialized tool which will
expertly present the wine to the palate - delivering the wine to that
part of the tongue that best represents that wine's characteristics. The
wine glasses are featured on this page.
(By the way, ever wonder why wine glasses have stems? The reason wine
glass have stems is for holding the glass without warming the wine which
one does when they hold the glass by the bowl).
- Use a wine glass with a narrow bowl to retain subtle
flavors and nuances. This ensures that the surface area of exposed
wine to oxygen is reduced.
- The wine will remain cooler for longer, therefore
retaining its bouquet.
- A younger, fresher wine is best in a slightly taller,
thinner glass. i.e. champagne is always served in a tall, fluted
glass which contains the bubbles and slowly directs them gently
upwards towards your nose.
- A fuller, fatter wine like a mature Chardonnay is best
out of a slightly shorter, wider rimmed glass. As there is an
abundance of flavor already in the wine, it is beneficial to have a
wider surface area in your glass. A Chardonnay does not require so
much chilling - unless of course it is very young and high in
- Use a glass with a wider bowl, increasing the surface
area, enabling the wine to breathe.
- Exposure to oxygen will soften the tannins and allow the
stronger flavors in the wine to show through.
- The wine will be served at or slightly below room
temperature, therefore it is easier to warm a wider glass than a
tall, narrow one as you hold it in your hand, this in turn releases
Only fill glasses one-third full. This helps to leave room in
the glass to swirl the wine around, so you are able to enjoy the aromas
as they are released.
Oh, yes, - one more dimension is price. The good news is, as
you practice and develop a more learned or experienced vocabulary, it
will become more discriminating. The bad news is that you'll start to
recognize and appreciate the difference between a cheaper wine and a
more expensive wine! This means as your palate becomes more experienced
and discriminating, you'll start to recognize and
appreciate more expensive wines. The good news though is that
there is a limit to this calibration. You might 'hit the wall' at
fifteen dollars per bottle, or twenty-five, or fifty. Further good news
is that you'll soon realize that there is not a complete direct
correlation between price, value, quality, and your personal
preferences. The ultimate fun and reward is finding that diamond in the
rough - an inexpensive, affordable wine that you truly enjoy, regardless
of price. They are out there. Now go find them!
There are many
devoted to wine which offer a wealth of information, advise, and
insights. There are also many
available to cover all aspects of wine for the neophyte to the
oenophile. There are also many
wine reviewers and reviews who
write about wine to aid and guide tasting, purchasing and collecting.
A useful on-line resource is WineSearcher.com - an search engine for
finding wine by in stock at over ten thousand participating merchants -
great for checking prices and availability. You can
on this WineSite main page here.
Remember at all times, this is supposed to be fun. At any point it
becomes work, back off. Also, contain your enthusiasm. I try to always
be mindful that a wine-snob is someone who talks about wine more than
those around him/her wish to hear about it!
If tasting more than one wine, always start with the lighter and simpler
wines first. A heavier or heartier wine will overpower lesser wines and
you'll lose all sense of discrimination or calibration for them.
More precision on tasting order is:
Dry before sweet:
This is probably the most important of the following rules, so if in
doubt - opt for the "dry before sweet" rule. Sweet wines
typically carry a long finish - drinking a dry wine with a short
finish following a sweet wine with a long finish will almost always
leave the dry wine tasting sour.
Old before young:
Mature wines tend to provide the most subtle,
elegant, and finessed nuances and should be sipped first to honor
the complexity of the flavors that aging provides. Younger
wines bear more tannin and fruit and will often wipe out some of the
subtle qualities of older wines if tasted first.
White usually before Red:
White wines are usually more
delicate than reds - which is why many presume that red should
always follow white. However, in some cases (ex. light pinot noir
vs. full-flavored voigners) sweeter wines pack a longer finish than
dry wines, so save your sweet syrupy whites to follow drier reds for
Light-bodied before full-bodied: The
delicate flavors and aromas found in light-bodied wines will be
missed entirely if consumed following tannic, robust reds.
When tasting more than one wine, don't drink serially! In other
words, don't drink one wine then the next and then the next. Taste one,
and then move on to the next, then go back and revisit the earlier wine
for a basis for comparison. Also, remember, that first or earlier wine
is going to evolve and reveal more of itself differently over time so it
will change! You don't want to miss it! If this concept seems in
contrast to the first part about lighter to heavier, do it for classes
or categories of wines. The whites , and then the reds for example.
Spit or swallow
One doesn't have to
drink wine to
wine. If you are concerned about your consumption, don't hesitate to
spit the wine out rather than swallow. Its acceptable and appropriate.
Especially for longer or broader tastings - spit so you can enjoy more,
or at least spit those you are less interested in and and savior and
swallow only those special wines!
If you are tasting several or many wines, it is normal to reach palate
'fatigue' or overload. Pace yourself, take your time, and refresh or
cleanse your palate in between wines. This can be done with water,
cheese, fruit, bread, biscuits or some combination of such.
Serve wines chilled - whites at 40-50 degrees. Yes, reds too, but only
slightly less so. We like to taste and drink our reds at 12-20 degrees
below room temperature. Too often reds are served too warm - even in
fine restaurants. Tell them so! We routinely find ourselves setting our
red bottle next to and in between our glasses of ice-water!
Observe - color, thickness, opacity, and aroma.
Swirl the wine in the glass (remember to hold the glass by the stem, not
the bowl - so as not to 'heat' the wine - that's for cognac! - that's
why they have stems!), and observe further - the color, body, structure,
opacity. Note the 'lines' in the glass as the wine drains back from the
edges into the bowl. These are called 'legs' (or my British friends call
them 'curtains';) and reveal the body and structure of the wine.
Observe again, the aromas as revealed after being exposed to the air
Smell again. One typically can only sense a few aromas with each sniff,
so repeat this two or three times. Wait a moment or to in between.
Repeat this step too many times and the aromas (and your nose) will get
want to smell the wine in this order - Fruit and Earth (natural),
then Oak (manipulated). This is how your nose is conditioned to pick
more you expose your olfactory senses to the aromas in a glass, the
more you will get when it is time to taste it.
Sip and 'feel' the structure or body of the wine
on the tongue and in the mouth.
Sip just enough to taste as the wine rolls across each part of the
tongue. Taste the wine over a period of time. Note the 'beginning' or
front, 'middle', and end or 'finish' of this process as the wine crosses
the tongue and is swallowed. Note the finish can go for a minute or more
after the wine is swallowed - a big or long finish!
These 'dimensions' are about where the wine meets the different tasting
parts of the tongue and time in the mouth. Did you know that is why
different wine glasses have different shapes? Differently shaped wine
glasses are specified for different types of wine to reveal the aroma in
the bowl of the glass, and to deliver or deposit the wine slowly or more
quickly, narrowly or widely to the front, middle or rear of the tongue -
all to marry the wine with the olfactory and tasting sensation parts of
the tongue best suited to that wine's characteristics!
What am I looking for? Start with obvious or more discernable tastes or
aroma's. Over time you'll expand your 'vocabulary' to more subtle
nuances. General characterizations of tastes are:
Herbs and Spices:
cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, orange and
lemon zest, black pepper, anise
prunes, raisins, apricots
strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry,
Fresh vegetables and vegetation:
bell pepper, mint, eucalyptus, cut grass
asparagus, black and green olives
walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds
tobacco, strawberry jam, honey, tea and
olfactory senses that can be manifested in
wine: cedar, earth or dirt, leather, pencil lead
Characteristics of the wine
can be revealed through the 'mouth feel'.
Wines that contain a high alcohol content will often
be referred to as "hot" due to the warm and sometimes
burning sensation left in the mouth.
Acidic wines provide you with mouth pucker.
"Chewy" refers to a full-bodied wine so dense and
tannic that you feel like you could actually chew it. This
is a product of high glycerin content.
Hold the wine in the mouth and if you can, suck in air, or swirl the
wine in your mouth to mix it with air to allow it to 'breath' in order
to reveal more of its aroma and tastes. Amazingly, the wine will reveal
different sensations and tastes at each of these various parts of the
Note that wine tasting notes often are indicated with numerous different
descriptions! These are reflections of different parts and time of the
Swirl the wine in the mouth, and as you do, try to feel the texture,
structure and once again sense the aromas and tastes sensations of the
If the wine has exceptional olfactory sensations, hold the wine in your
mouth and suck in some air (really). It'll create a slurping sound but
will reveal the bouquet further as taste sensation.
Note - some wines have it and some don't! Lackluster, non-sophisticated,
dull, or lifeless wines are just that. They won't reveal anything more
than wetness and some flavor - good, bad or somewhere in between. And
with age, they will only likely deteriorate.
Try a more 'complex' or sophisticated, wine or style of wine, pay
attention, and begin the journey! Most such wines have an aging profile
that will evolve and improve to a peak, then plateau, then start to
deteriorate. The shape of each wine's aging profile will be unique to
Look at my section on wine
reviewers and reviewing wine
to get a sense of how to characterize and calibrate tasting.
Remember, the only assessment of a wine that matters is yours! Only you
decide what you like and don't like.
Always taste and drink responsibly. Enjoy!
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