How to taste Wine | Vinoteka

How to taste Wine

04.11.2020
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How to taste Wine

How to Taste Wine and Understand Your Palate: A Guide to Navigating a Wine Tasting

How to Taste Wine, Enjoy Wine, Evaluate Wine like Professional Tasters with tips on the best and easiest way to learn how to taste wine and understand wine.

Wine is a fantastic topic, but it’s immensely complicated. Think about it. Passionate people around the world dedicate their lives to harvest a single yearly crop. Grapes that, in a matter of two months, become bottle wine. Every bottle is the work of dozens of people!

And what’s more impressive is the fact that no two bottles of wine are alike. You can literally try a different bottle every day of your life, and you won’t finish trying all there is.

From young, zippy wines designed to be enjoyed poolside with your friends to contemplative bottles of wine coveted by wine collectors, who are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. There’s a bottle of wine for every budget, every taste, and every situation.

Then you have the wine styles. White wine and red wine are the most popular, but you’ll also find decadently sweet dessert wines, crisp rosé wines, sparkling wines, and bold fortified wines. How to choose?

Once you get bit by the wine bug, you enter a realm of knowledge and pleasure, history, and culture. Wine is all this and more.

Of course, if you want to make the most out of each bottle of wine you open, you must master a very important wine tasting skill. How to taste wine is a skill you can learn, no one is born an expert wine taster, and you don’t need a gifted nose or a discernible palate, only the will to learn. 

Taste, taste, and taste some more. That’s the only way of refining your skills. How’s that for homework? That’s why wine lures so many people because it’s not only exciting and intriguing, it’s delicious! So let’s get started.

In this guide, we’ll learn how to taste wine like a professional, but we’ll also answer the most common questions for beginners. We’ll take a look at a few charts and lists to help us understand the characteristics in distinct wines and will bring it home with a wine tasting bucket list — wines you have to try before you die.

There’s no time limit for learning about wine. You can take your time. The most important thing is not rushing it; instead, learn from every glass of wine you get your hands on.

Reader beware. Wine is booze, yes, you can get drunk, which is part of the fun, but it’s also serious business. When you open a bottle of wine, you’re drinking the work of many people who put their hearts into the fermented grape juice. Always drink responsibly and with respect. 

There’s always time to have fun, socialize, and relax with a glass of wine in hand, but you must focus and pay attention when it comes to wine tasting. 

The bottom line? Get ready to learn the best tips and tricks to taste wine like a seasoned pro. Sooner than you think, you’ll be talking about wine like a sommelier, and you’ll probably want to start building your wine collection. This is only the beginning. There’s a long road ahead and several challenges to overcome, but what a delicious journey it is!

Let’s start with some wine terms because wine has its own language. Read on and see which of these terms you already know. 

Wine Tasting Terms

This is a list of common wine terms from A to Z you should get acquainted with. The better you understand the world of wine, the more proficient you’ll be when tasting it. 

  • Acidity- All grapes have acid, and that acid translates into the wine. Wine is acidic by nature, and it makes us salivate. 
  • Alcohol - When grape juice is fermented, yeast turns sugar into alcohol. Ethanol is the most common alcohol in wine.
  • AOC - Meaning appellation d ‘origine contrôlée, this is a French level of quality for wines coming from a prestigious site. The style is protected by law.
  • Aroma - Wine is enjoyable because it smells like many things from apples and cherries to flowers and chocolate. There are literally dozens of fragrances in every glass.
  • AVA - Similar to the French AOC, but in the USA, these are established and protected American Viticultural Areas.
  • Balance - Wine is balanced when it’s not overly sweet, acidic, or pungent. When all the flavors and aromas are in harmony, we say there’s balance. 
  • Barrique - Barriques are 255lt barrels, and they’re made from oak. Barriques add vanilla and spice aromas to the wine. 
  • Blanc de Blancs - for sparkling wines made entirely from Chardonnay.
  • Blanc de Noirs - For sparkling wines made with red grapes like Pinot Noir.
  • Blend - Wine made with several grapes. Popular blends are Cabernet-Merlot or Syrah-Grenache.
  • Bodega - The Spanish name for a winery.
  • Body - Wine with a full-body has is coating in the palate and has more alcohol; they feel rich in the mouth. Wine with a light body is watery and refreshing.
  • Bordeaux - One of the most famous French wine regions specializing in Cabernet and Merlot, but they make stupendous white and sweet wine as well.
  • Bouquet - We call bouquet to all the aromas in wine, from fruit aromas to scents reminiscent of flowers or spices. 
  • Brut - For sparkling wine, meaning it has low sugar levels and tastes quite dry.
  • Burgundy - One of the most famous French wine regions specialized in world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
  • Cava - The Spanish term for their sparkling wines made with the Champagne method. 
  • Champagne - The single best sparkling wines on earth, explicitly made in the French region of Champagne, created following precise quality laws.
  • Chateau - The French name for a winery or estate. 
  • Claret - The traditional name for Cabernet or Merlot blends made in the French region of Bordeaux.
  • Clos - A traditional term for wall-enclosed vineyards. Common in Burgundy.
  • Crianza - A Spanish term for wines aged for short periods.
  • Decant - The act of separating wine from the solids that precipitate to the bottom of a bottle.
  • Dosage - Th amount of final sugar that is added to sparkling wines. 
  • Earthy - Common aromas, mostly in red wines redolent of mushrooms, damp earth, autumn leaves, and truffles.
  • Fermentation - Yeast converting sugar in any liquid into alcohol and carbonic gas. 
  • Filtration - The final process before bottling wine, as it’s filtrated to achieve a crystal-clear look.
  • Fortified Wine - Wine to which producers add a distilled spirit such as Brandy. Common in Sherry and Port.
  • Gran Reserva - The most prestigious wines in Spain, these are aged for up to 5 years before being sold.
  • Grand Cru - A French term for the highest quality tier, either for estates or for vineyards.
  • Herbaceous - Aromas in wine reminiscent of herbs, fresh-cut grass, bell peppers, and other green matter. 
  • Ice Wine - A sweet wine style made by harvesting frozen grapes in winter.
  • Late Harvest - A sweet wine style achieved by harvesting shriveled grapes late in the harvest season. 
  • Legs - Alcohol and water interact in a wine glass because of the difference in evaporation rates and glycerin in wine. 
  • Maceration - Allowing grapes to rest with their skins to gain complexity.
  • Malolactic Fermentation - A process in which bacteria turn the tart malic acid into the rounder lactic acid. 
  • Must - Grape juice before being fermented.
  • Nose - The aromas in wine.
  • Oaky - The influence of oak barrel aging in wine, often as spices and vanilla.
  • Oxidized - Wine affected by oxygen, it might lose aromas and freshness. Oxygen can ruin the wine.
  • PH - The measurement unit for acidity in liquids, widely used for wine.
  • Premier Cru - Highest quality wines in Bordeaux, and best-second quality in Burgundy.
  • Press - The act of separating the grape juice from grape skins.
  • Reserve - Wine that has been aged for longer than usual, gaining complexity.
  • Rioja - A prestigious Spanish wine region specializing in Tempranillo.
  • Rosé - Pink wine made by pressing red grapes, allowing the red skins to taint the juice.
  • Silky - A smooth mouthfeel caused either by glycerin, alcohol, sugar, or tannins.
  • Sommelier - The person in charge of wine at a restaurant or any other establishment. Specialized in wine service and wine storage.
  • Spicy - Spice aromas in wine, often coming from oak aging. They can include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, black pepper.
  • Table Wine - The lowest quality in wine, often without vintage or grape variety on the label.
  • Tannins - Gritty particles in red wine that give structure and cause dryness in the mouth.
  • Terroir - The sense of place of wine. All the characteristics of climate, soil altitude, and man’s hand in the wine’s personality.
  • Varietal - Grape wines.
  • Vintage - The year the grapes are harvested for a particular bottle of wine.
  • Viticulture - The science of growing grapevines and ensuring a proper grape harvest.
  • Yeast - A fungus that transforms sugar into alcohol and CO2, producing heat in the process.

Professional Wine Tasting

These wine-tasting steps will allow you to taste the wine like a professional.

Sight

The color in wine reveals lots of information. In white wines, a pale color means lighter-bodied, fresher wines, while golden wines are often full-bodied, more complex, and coating. 

For red wines, a deep color means the grapes were exposed to lots of sun, so the skins accumulated many pigments. Light-colored red wines received less sun, so the wines are more translucent. 

Some grapes are naturally lighter colored like Pinot Noir, while other grapes are always dark like Malbec.

The legs or tears in wine reveal the amount of alcohol and glycerin in wine—the thicker the legs, the fuller-bodied the wines. 

For sparkling wines, the smaller the bubbles and the more vibrant the bubble streams, the higher the wine’s quality.

Nose

Aromas in wine are the most enjoyable part of tasting it, but they can also tell us a lot about it.

For white wines, you’ll find aromas from some of these families: citrus fruit, stone fruit, like apples and pears, pitted fruit, like apricots and peaches, and tropical fruit, including mango, guava, and lychee. 

Suppose the winemaker allowed bacteria to smoothen the wine with the process called malolactic fermentation, as it’s often done with Chardonnay. In that case, you’ll find aromas reminiscent of crème fraîche, marshmallows, or crème brûlée.

If white wine is aged in oak barrels, again often for Chardonnay, the wine will smell like vanilla and winter spices. 

Grapes grown in cold climates will reveal citrus aromas, and warmer climates will develop tropical fruit scents. Knowing this can help you figure out if a white wine comes from a cold region or a warm one.

For red wines, you can find red, black, or blue fruit, and what helps you distinguish if they come from a cold or a warm climate is the fruit condition. 

Tart fruit aromas come from colder climates like Burgundy or Germany, while ripe fruit aromas come from warm regions, including California and Australia. 

Most red wines spend some time in oak barrels, which translate into spices and vanilla. Other aromas come from the grapes themselves, Cabernet Sauvignon often smells like bell peppers, and Syrah smells like black pepper. 

Palate

You can only taste the wine’s sweetness, alcohol, acidity, and texture on the palate.

Identify one by one these elements. Acidic wine often comes from cold regions, and alcoholic wines come from warm areas. 

Tannins are often found in thick-skinned grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, while smooth textures are proper of thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir.

Final Comments

If you focus on your wine glass with all your senses and connect the dots, you can eventually figure out the grapes used to make it, but also the climate, leading to a specific place in the world. 

That’s what professional sommeliers do; they evaluate the wine and learn to listen to its clues. Every aroma, flavor, and texture gives you information.

The most important thing? It’s enjoying wine and learning what you like and what you don’t. This way you’ll be able to help your friends and family chose wine, and in a restaurant scenario, you could help a guest select a bottle from a wine list to match with its dinner.

This is what professional wine tasting is all about. It’s not about naming dozens of aromas but about finding new ways to help people get around the complex world of wine. That’s why we study wine, to help people.

One last tip. Take notes of every wine you taste. Be thorough and write down everything you smell and taste. Go back to your tasting notes often and learn from your experience. Taking notes is the single most efficient way of improving your wine tasting skills.

Here are the ten best wine books you can read to improve your wine knowledge:

  1. The World Atlas of Wine, 8th edition. Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson.
  2. The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe, co-authors Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay
  3. Adventures on the Wine Route By Kermit Lynch
  4. Beyond Flavour: The Indispensable Handbook to Blind Wine Tasting By Nick Jackson
  5. The Winemaker’s Dance: Exploring Terroir in the Napa Valley By Jonathan Swinchatt and David Howell
  6. Napa: The Story of an American Eden by James Conaway
  7. The Oxford Companion to Wine, 4th Edition Edited by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding
  8. What to Drink with What You Eat By Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
  9. Wine Folly: The Essential Guide To Wine by Madeline Puckette and Justin Hammack
  10. Tasting Wine and Cheese: An Insider’s Guide to Mastering the Principles of Pairing by Adam Centamore

Taste wine and read wine books. Listen to wine podcasts as well and subscribe to a wine club. There are many ways of expanding your wine knowledge, and if you do it with a tasting group, everything will be easier. 

How to taste wine is a skill you can perfect for the rest of your life, so don’t be discouraged. As the professionals do, one glass at a time will take you to unexplored paths of knowledge and tasty wine!

If you want to dig even deeper, take a wine course, and look for sommelier certification programs. They’re available worldwide, and you’ll get to know people as passionate as yourself. After a few years, you’ll be the one teaching wine to your own students. 

How To Taste Wine For Beginners. Most Common Questions

How should a beginner drink wine? The most important thing is to start tasting. You can learn a lot, even from inexpensive wine. Drink slowly and don’t overdo it until you know how your body reacts to wine.

Does white wine get you drunk faster? No, what matters is the amount of alcohol and how much you drink. No wine will get you drunk faster.

What is the best wine to get drunk off? The best wine to get drunk off is the cheapest wine you can find. There’s no use in wasting fine bottles for binge drinking. 

What is the best way to drink red wine? The best way is cooling it between 10° and 16° and enjoy it from a crystal stemmed wine glass with a large bowl—one sip at a time, savoring every moment.

What should I drink after drinking wine? The best thing to do is drinking lots of water during and after drinking wine. That way you’ll avoid hangovers. 

What can I mix with wine? You can drink inexpensive red wine with lemonade for a tasty sangria or with coke. You can mix white wine with lemonade as well, or with sparkling water.

Is it okay to drink wine every night? It’s best to drink with moderation. It’s okay to drink wine every other night. If you’re drinking daily, don’t drink more than two glasses.

Can I drink wine with water? It’s a good idea to have a glass of water in hand while drinking wine. That way, you avoid dehydration, but you shouldn’t drink wine with water unless you want to dilute it. It won’t taste very well, though.

How To Taste Wine Like a Pro. Final Tips

To taste wine like a Sommelier, follow the next guidelines:

Taste wine with like-minded people regularly, you’ll learn from others, and they’ll learn from you. How do you properly drink wine? With good company. Wine is all about sharing and tasting with others will speed up your learning process.

Expand your wine tasting vocabulary. Was that a golden apple you tasted, or was it a candied apple peel? Was that lime or lemon? Practice wine tasting and try to describe the flavors and aromas the best you can. 

The more wine taste descriptions you have on top of your head, the better you’ll be able to assess wine. Here’s a wine taste chart to get you started.

  • Colors in white wine - Pale green, straw, golden.
  • Colors in red wine - ruby red, violet, purple, brick, garnet.
  • Aromas in white wine - citrus fruits, stone fruits, pitted fruits, tropical fruits, oak spices, flowers, malolactic aromas, nuts, herbs.
  • Aromas in red wine - red fruit, black fruit, blue fruit, spices, herbs, smoke, meat, earth, wood, mushrooms.
  • Tastes in wine - crisp, tangy, tart, ripe, lush, coating, opulent, luxurious, round, astringent, long, short, alcoholic, smooth, silky, balanced, oxidized.

Here’s a red wine sweetness chart from dry to sweet to help you navigate red wines:

  1. French Cabernet Sauvignon
  2. French Syrah
  3. Spanish Tempranillo
  4. Italian Nebbiolo
  5. Italian Sangiovese
  6. Washington Merlot
  7. Oregon Pinot Noir 
  8. Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon
  9. Sonoma Cabernet
  10. Napa Valley Cabernet
  11. South African Pinotage
  12. Australian Shiraz
  13. Californian Zinfandel

Now You’re a Proficient Wine Taster

We bet you’re dying to pop open a bottle of wine or two. Once you start perfecting your tasting skills, you’ll see a window of opportunity opens in front of your eyes.

When you learn to taste wine, you become a better host, a proficient wine buyer, and a great drinking buddy. 

Wine knowledge is incredibly vast, but everyone has to start somewhere, and learning how to interpret wine’s flavors and aromas is a great starting point.

Start buying a bottle at every opportunity; it doesn’t have to be expensive. By what you can whenever you can and remember to taste it before drinking it!

You can also try tasting two different wines side by side. One learns a lot from the comparison. You might not perceive the mouthfeel or the acidity in a particular wine until you compare it with another one in the same category.

Chardonnay from California will taste massively different when compared to French Chardonnay. You can do the same thing with every wine grape; just look for similar wine styles from different wine regions.

Also, remember to try different things. It’s common for inexperienced drinkers to stick with the wines they like or to refuse to drink wine categories they don’t find appealing like whites or rosé. If you really want to master wine, you’ll have to taste everything from every corner of earth.

Once in a while, get yourself a fancier bottle, something more memorable. Sure, fine wine can be expensive, but it’s incredibly more layered and nuanced, complex, and pleasing. You’ll learn much faster if you try fine wine once in a while. Here’s a pretty cool bucket list for you to try.

White wines you have to try:

  • Chablis, Chardonnay, France
  • Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, France
  • Bourgogne, Chardonnay, France 
  • Riesling, Mosel, Germany
  • Pinot Grigio, Italy
  • Trebbiano, Tuscany, Italy
  • Grüner Veltliner, Austria
  • Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain
  • Manzanilla, Sherry, Spain
  • Soave, Veneto, Italy
  • Champagne, France
  • Prosecco, Italy
  • Tokaji, Hungary
  • Sauternes, France 
  • Chardonnay, Napa Valley, USA
  • Riesling, Washington, USA
  • Torrontés, Argentina
  • Sauvignon Blanc, Chile
  • Chardonnay, Australia
  • Chenin Blanc, South Africa
  • Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand 

Red Wines you have to try:

  • Burgundy, Pinot Noir, France
  • Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, France
  • Bordeaux, Merlot, France
  • Syrah, Rhone Valley, France
  • Rioja, Tempranillo, Spain
  • Ribera del Duero, Tempranillo, Spain
  • Barolo, Nebbiolo, Italy
  • Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
  • Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy
  • Nero D'Avola, Sicily, Italy
  • Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA
  • Merlot, Napa Valley, USA
  • Zinfandel, Sonoma, USA
  • Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA
  • Syrah, Washington, USA
  • Malbec, Argentina
  • Cabernet Franc, Chile
  • Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
  • Shiraz, Barossa, Australia
  • Pinotage, South Africa

Try the wines above, and you’ll have a vast vocabulary, desirable experience, and an impressive wine repertoire up your sleeve. 

Tasting all the most important wines in the world might take a few years, but these will be pretty satisfying and tasty years of study.

Add to this wine drinking training program a few wine books, wine podcasts, and magazines, and you’ll be on your way to wine mastery.

No one said it would be easy, but if you’re dedicating years of study, what better than studying something boozy! 

Get serious and bring out that corkscrew; it’s time to master wine because it’s the most amazing drink on the planet, and those who know its secrets always have something to talk about.

When you learn to taste wine, it becomes part of you, so don’t wait. Get tasting today and share this guide with your drinking buddies, it’s time to get serious!

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