How do people who taste wine for a living taste wine? Sommeliers and wine reviewers need a system that helps them remember and catalog their impressions so they can draw from their tasting experiences when needed.  For the rest of us, it may be remembering the flavors we like so we can make intelligent choices at the wine store or restaurant.

Think of tasting for enjoyment as stimulating all your senses from external to internal.

  • Listen
  • Look
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Contemplate

Listen

Nothing gets me more excited as the sound of a cork popping, and of course there is the wonderful sounds of friends talking and laughing while at a dinner party or perhaps the background music at a festive occasion. These are all sounds to be savored while tasting wine.

Look

After pouring wine into a glass take a look. The color can tell you something about the grape variety. Cabernet Sauvignon can have a ruby red color, and Grenache sometime has a blueish edge to it. Older red wines will have a brick orange color on the edge, and older whites will be turning amber. The “legs” or viscous droplets running down the sides of the glass can give you a hint of how alcoholic the wine may be.

Smell

Swirl the wine in your glass to help it mix with oxygen and release its aromas. Place your nose right down on the rim of the glass and take a healthy sniff. The primary smells in wine are of the grape itself, and can be floral or herbaceous. The secondary aromas tend to be from the wine making process, the yeasty, nutty smells, and vanilla from oak barrel aging are some smells you may get from the wine. Finally, aging aromas such as roasted nuts, baking spices, forest floor are indicative of wines that have spent some time in the wine cellar.

Taste

Now we get to taste the wine. Again from external to internal. Swirl the wine again and breathe in through your nose while sipping. The tip of the tongue senses the sweet or fruit flavors such as berries, flowers or candy. We can discern if the wine has more of a citrus flavor or orchard fruit influence. As the wine gets to mid palate we sense the bitter, sour and salty flavors which are necessary to keep the wine from tasting too soft or flabby. Also we begin to get a sense of the texture of the wine. A wine with noticeable viscosity and an increase in texture may be high in alcohol as the ethanol will make wines feel full bodied. The tannic acids will be noticeable in the rear of the palate giving a dry sensation to the wines taste and balancing the fruit flavors from the front of the tongue.

And all those sensations will be time based. Do the flavors end quickly? Or does the wine have a nice long and pleasant finish with waves of successive flavors?

Think

Finally we get to use our cognitive powers to try and remember this wine if it has impressed you. Was it fresh and lively? Or is it deep and contemplative? Like any good art if the wine excited you or took you on some sort of journey remember why it did and search for other similar wines. Be confident as your tastes will never match those of others. If it tastes good, then it is good.

Finally wines are meant to be poured generously. If you find something that you enjoy, be sure to share it with your friends.