Pour the wine about a third full into a simple glass that curves inward. Holding the glass by the stem, tip it against a white background.
Examine the wine:
What can the colour tell you?
White Wines: become deeper (more golden) with age.
Red Wines: the more purple the wine, the younger it is. In young wines, the colour is usually uniform. The more brown, tawny or orange the wine, the older it is. With age, the colour is not uniform and is lighter at the rim of the glass compared with the center.
Generally, the lighter the colour of the wine, the cooler the climate. However, certain grape varieties are characteristically light or dark in colour.
Swirl the wine in the glass to increase the surface area exposure to the air. This helps it evolve. Take a quick sniff (remember, first impressions count the most)
Does it smell clean or unclean?
Does it smell weak or pronounced?
What does it smell of?
What can the smell tell you?
Older wines tend to smell more savory and spicy and less of fruit.
Younger wines tend to smell more of fruit.
Some grape varieties have very distinctive bouquets.
Take a mouthful of wine (not too much) and swirl it around your mouth (so every taste bud gets a chance to taste it). Professional tasters draw in air at the same time to increase the contact with air and give the wine a chance to evolve in the mouth. — Spit it out (optional, unless you've got 20 wines to taste!).
Can you taste the sweetness?
Can you taste the acidity?
Can you taste the tannin?
Can you feel the alcohol?
What can the taste tell you?
Quality: A good sign of quality is balance. A wine is balanced when all of the wine's components (e.g. sweetness, acidity, tannins) blend together. The balance or potential to be balanced after ageing is a sign of quality.
Maturity: Older red wines tend to taste more savory and spicy. Older white wines tend to taste more honeyed and yeasty. Younger wines tend to taste more of fruit.
Origin: Hotter countries mean riper grapes and more overtly fruity wines (and a higher degree of alcohol).
Grape Variety: Certain grape varieties taste of certain flavours, e.g. Sauvignon Blanc typically tastes and smells of gooseberries, Cabernet Sauvignon of blackcurrants.
Sweetness: Tasted at the tip of the tongue and tastes sugary. The taste comes from the sugar in ripe grapes that is left after fermentation has finished. You can sometimes spot residual sugar from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass. This is also an indication of alcohol or the level of fruit extract.
Acidity: Sensed on the sides of the tongue - can taste almost citric. It occurs naturally in grapes and is important to balance sweetness. White wines have more acidity than red wines.
Tannin: Tasted at the back of the tongue and tastes bitter like a strong cup of tea. Also has a drying effect on the gums. It comes from the pips and skins of the grapes and from oak ageing. It is mainly found in red wines.
Alcohol: Felt at the back of the throat, giving a warming sensation. The higher the level of sugar in the grapes before fermentation, the higher potential alcohol the wine will have, i.e. hotter countries tend to produce wines higher in alcohol. You can also see this from the 'legs' left on the sides of the glass.
Length: 'Length' is how long you can taste the wine once you have swallowed (or spit it out). It gives an indication of quality. The longer the length, the higher the quality.
Body: Weight and fullness of wine on the palate.
Balance: When all of the wine's component parts (e.g. sweetness, acidity, tannins) blend together. This is a sign of quality. This can take time. A wine is mature when it has achieved optimal balance.
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