Wine tasting 101: a guide for the amateur wine enthusiast

Good wine is like good sex, there is a certain amount of technique and knowledge involved in the making, consumption and above all appreciation. While wine tasting has the reputation of an exclusively elaborate ritual, there are really only a couple of simple steps you need to remember. You need the right setting, the right tools, a nose for detail and a good aim.

Choose your setting

Wine tasting conditions determine a significant part of pleasure. You need to put all of your senses to work. An overcrowded and noisy environment can be distracting and concentration is key for grasping the complexity of a wine’s multidimensional body.

A lot of artificial light and aggressive smells are things you will want to steer clear of. Anything too strong or bright could dominate over a wine’s colour and aroma.

Wine festivals, like the London Greek Wine Festival, which took place at West Handyside Canopy earlier this month, are a great place to start getting your nose around the craft of wine tasting.  Image: Asya Gadzheva

You will definitely need proper glassware and something white. The right glass is egg-shaped with a tapered bowl, clear and clean and without any smell or flavour residue.

Within the professional tasting world, colour is examined against a white background. It can be a tablecloth, a napkin or even a sheet of paper. You will notice that the colour is richer against something stark.

When it comes to wine tasting, there are four stages to ensure maximum pleasure. Look. Sniff. Sip. Think.

Take a look

How a wine looks reveals a lot about how it has aged and how much sugar and alcohol it contains. Fill one-third of the glass and pay attention.

Ageing changes the colour. White wines gain vividly golden spices. Red wines gain notable deep dark red tones. Although most of the knowledge obtained from looking can be found on the bottle label, it is fun to observe different colours.

A colour’s density is best observed at the bottom of the liquid. Image: Asya Gadzheva

Remember to watch out for the ‘wine legs.’ Also called ‘wine tears,’ they are the droplets of wine from the inside of the glass. Holding the glass at an angle and levelling it indicates the alcohol and sugar levels of the wine.

As a rule of thumb, highly alcoholic wines have a higher density of droplets and sweeter wines have slowly falling ‘legs.’

You should not normally spend more than ten seconds doing this. Now brace yourself for the main event: the art of wine sniffing.

Breathe it in

The aromas are wine’s greatest charm. Swirl the glass in order to aerate the wine. Taking a few short sniffs will allow you to identify the layers of aromas. Do not bury your nose in the glass.

Production: Asya Gadzheva

Go from big to small. Think about the intensity of the fragrances. And remember, different people can sense different things because wine can hold hundreds of aromas. So, if you cannot get your nose round the nutty lingering, move on to tasting.

Take a sip

Tasting the wine is where most of us get it wrong. You take a sip, not a large gulp. And you don’t swallow unless you want to feel a taste at the back of the throat after swallowing, known as a ‘finish.’

Let the wine rest in your mouth and move it around your taste buds. There are arguably thousands of distinct wine flavours. If you really want to show off, here is a list of what to watch out for when tasting some of the most popular wines out there.

Production: Asya Gadzheva

In the end, you spit. Nothing embarrassing about it. This way you preserve the palate’s sensitivity and if you are going to taste more than one wine, you are expected to spit.

Equally, if you are tasting several varieties, start from the lightest and work your way up, otherwise you risk numbing your taste buds. And you would not want that in front of a good glass of wine now, would you?

Think about it

Look. Sniff. Taste. Now think. Think about how the wine feels. Does it taste good? What is the profile of the wine? What are the layers of flavours and aromas?

If after all the gazing, uncoordinated sniffing and embarrassing spitting you end up frustratingly swirling that last sip in your glass, answer just one question. Do you like it? In the end, that is all that really matters.

Words: Asya Gadzheva | Subbing: Amelia Walker-Hall

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