Tips for Enjoying a Wine Tasting
Are you attending a wine tasting soon? Whether it’s your first tasting or your 50th, there is always something new to discover about wines and the wine world. Make the most of your next wine tasting with these simple tips.
Keep scents in mind
As you get ready to attend a tasting, be prudent when it comes to selecting your lotions, perfumes and colognes, and aftershaves. While each of these items make you smell lovely, they also impede your nose’s ability to pick up the aromas in the wines you taste. (They may even impede the ability for others around you to smell their wines!)
Eat (the right foods) beforehand
The goal of a wine tasting is to discover the essence of the wine. To do so, you want to make sure that you have a clean palate that is free of aftertastes from foods with strong flavors. Therefore, be careful with which foods you eat the day of the wine tasting: you may want to skip meals heavy on garlic, onions, and other palate-numbing flavors.
Another food-related tip: be sure to eat! Do not come to a wine tasting on an empty stomach.
Take time noting the wine’s color
One of the most overlooked aspects of wine tasting is taking the time to note the wine’s color. Each wine will have its own unique color, and the color can tell us a lot about the wine’s age, body, and depth.
Hold your glass up to a light-colored surface and observe. What color does it look like to you? For white wines, you might observe a pale, medium, or deep color somewhere on this spectrum:
For red wines, you might observe a pale, medium, or deep color somewhere on this spectrum:*
Ask yourself the following questions to help narrow down the color of your wine:*
1. Which of the red wine or white wine hues would I consider the wine to be? (For example, is this white wine straw, yellow, or gold hued?)
2. Within that color, would I consider it to be pale, medium, or deep?
To prepare yourself for this, it might be useful to acquaint yourself with these colors. (Unless you work with colors for a living, you probably don’t know the difference between ruby and garnet: this isn’t exactly common knowledge!) A quick internet search will help you distinguish between each of the common wine colors.
*(Of course, the colors will vary for wines such as Port, rosé, sparkling wine. Talk to your tasting room representative to help determine the color of these wines; they’ll be happy to help!)
Swirl and sniff (and sniff . . . and sniff)
Now that you’ve determined the color of your wine, it’s time to distinguish its aromas.
Many are terrified of this portion of the tasting. (When asked what they smell, many go blank!) This is understandable: distinguishing different aromas from a wine is a skill that is learned over time. But that does not mean that you do not have the abilities to pick out specific aromas yourself, even if this is your first tasting.
Wine aromas are typically categorized in the following manner:
Fruity aromas in wines
Fruit aromas in a white wine will typically fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit)
- Pome fruits (different varieties of apple and pear)
- Stone fruits (apricots, peaches, plums)
- Tropical fruits (melon, passion fruit, pineapple, lychee)
Fruit aromas in a red wine will typically fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Red berries (raspberry, currant, strawberry, blackberry)
- Stone fruits (cherry, plum)
- Mature fruits (prune)
Floral aromas in wines
Floral aromas in white wine are typically a variation of white flowers, such as the following:
- Orange blossom
Floral aromas in red wine are typically a variation of colored flowers, such as the following:
Vegetal aromas in wines
Some varieties of white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc) exude vegetal characteristics such as green bell pepper or cut grass. However, in most cases, red wines exude aromas that fall into the vegetal category.
The vegetal category can further be broken down into the following subcategories:
- Vegetables (bell pepper, fennel, tomato vines)
- Fresh herbs (cut grass, dill, thyme, mint)
- Dried herbs (hay, black tea, tobacco)
- Leaves (bay leaf, eucalyptus)
Oak aromas in wines
If a wine is aged in oak, then it will take on interesting characteristics. While most red wines are aged in oak, white wines can also be aged in this manner.
The oak aroma category can further be broken down into the following subcategories:
- Toasted (smoke, toast, chocolate, caramel)
- Spiced (cinnamon, anise, pepper, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg)
- Nutty (almond, hazelnuts, coconut)
- Woody (pine, cedar, sandalwood, oak)
Aromas in aged wine qualities
When a wine is aged, it can take on characteristics that resemble animal products and/or the woods.
- Animal (pork fat, bacon, leather)
- Woodsy (mushroom, truffle, forest floor, yeast)
Earthy aromas in wines
It is not uncommon for wines to take on aspects of the terroir and exhibit these characteristics in its aromas. Look for the following scents as you swirl and sniff your wine:
The person conducting the tasting most likely has a passion for wine and could sit and talk about wine for hours. Make use of this connection and ask questions about the wine, the winemakers, and the region!
Some common questions that you may want to ask include the following:
- The winery’s history. Has it been in the family for generations? Who planted the vines? How long ago?
- The wine’s grapes. Where are the grapes grown? How old are the vines? What were the growing conditions for this year? When were the grapes harvested? Is that early or late in the season? Are they picked by hand? If the wine is a blend, what are the grapes that went into this bottle (and what is the percentage of each?)
- The winemaking process. How long was it aged? Was it aged in oak? (If so, what type of oak, and why did the winemaker choose this oak?) What flavors has the oak imparted into the wine?
- Enjoying the wine. Should this wine age? For how long? How does this wine open up over time? What should we serve this wine with? At what temperature should this wine be enjoyed?
Have fun getting to know more about the wine, and remember: each wine has a unique and interesting story!
The obvious most important tip of a wine tasting is to enjoy yourself. In the end, you’re surrounded by wine lovers and get to sip something delicious. How fun is that?
Quigley Fine Wines Tasting Room
Have you seen our beautiful (and recently renovated) tasting room in Downtown San Diego? Come join us for a tasting and sample the organic wines we are pouring this week. Our selection always changes, but the quality always stays top-notch. We hope to see you soon!
Contact us for tasting room hours.