Wine Tasting 101

Much of what I’ve learned about wine tasting (real wine tasting; not quickly sucking back a wine skin before a high school dance) I’ve garnered from trips over the years to wineries. The American Wine School here in Cleveland has some great classes to demonstrate how to quaff like a pro.  And once you have the basics, you can impress your friends at dinner with your learned snuffing and swishing. I don’t recommend spitting at dinner ~ it generally horrifies the others.

You’ll want to use a glass that gives you the ability to: swirl it without spilling, and get your nose into fully so you can inhale the aroma. In the coming weeks, I’ll write more about glassware and how it can enhance the wine drinking experience.

Unless you’re going to decant your wine for a few hours, or pour it through a wine aerator, you can: swirl it (on a table or countertop) to move a little oxygen through. This works to breathe new life, if you will, into a wine that’s been stopped up in a bottle for a while and improve the flavor you experience.

Love at First Sight

Once you’ve got your wine in the glass, and you’ve swirled it a few times, you’ll want to look for a few things:

  • Clarity: how clear is the wine?  Is there any sediment floating around or settling to the bottom
    • can be described as: muddy, cloudy, bright.
  • Intensity: is the color pale or dark?
  • Color: this indicates the tone or tint of the wine. you could use words like: ruby, purple, crimson, green, yellow, straw, amber

A good way to really see how it looks is to hold your glass at a slight angle over a white surface. You can use a white table cloth or a light countertop.The white surface helps to illuminate the wine and you can see more detail.

After swirling, tilt your glass and take a look. You’ll be surprised at what you can see.

White surface...for better clarity

White surface... for better clarity

On the Nose

Smelling, or nosing, determines several things about a wine:

  • condition (good or bad)
  • intensity (weak or robust and pronounced)
  • character (how you’d actually describe the fruit itself)
  • How to ‘Nose’ a Wine: I know, it sounds all kinds of wrong but it isn’t. Take one short sniff (to determine condition) and ask yourself: is it good or bad? Short sniffs are actually important because air that moves quickly into the nasal passages intensifies the sense of smell.
Hello Wine!

Hello Wine!

After this, you can take several more deep, gentle sniffs to determine the aroma’s intensity and character. When you swirl and sniff, see how many ways you can describe the aromas. And don’t worry if you’re just starting out, you will be able to tell if a wine just doesn’t smell good to you. Really.

Over the Teeth and Past the Gums: Taste the Wine

Many experts have said that the best way to taste wine is to take a bit in your mouth, swish it back and forth while opening your mouth just slightly as you do it. This is to bring air into the wine to further oxygenate and bring out the flavors. That may be true, but I just end up with it dribbling down my chin. You can try it but  make sure you have a napkin nearby, just in case.

According to the American Wine School, tasting involves seven components:

  • Sweetness ~ how dry or sweet is it? Whether a wine is ‘dry’ means that there is very little left over sugar
  • Acidity ~ this is the sour yin to the sweet yang; described as fresh, crisp, tart, flat.
  • Tannins ~ provide the robust texture and structure (like espresso); hard, soft, bitter, chewy, round.
  • Alcohol ~ is what carries the aroma and heat (and all this time I thought it was a hot flash); low, medium, high.
  • Body ~ how much weight the wine has on your tongue. It’s like a milky consistency of varying degrees, depending on the type of wine; light, medium, full
  • Fruit ~ the grapey, fruity (and non-fruit) flavors (like smoke, cherry, citrus, butter, stone and vinyl).
    • ** The wine aroma wheel is an excellent tool to help you to describe the fruit tastes you’ll experience. I’ll be looking at that in one of my next posts.
  • Finish ~ is the aftertaste and how long it stays in your mouth; usually described as short, medium, long.

So there you have it; some basics on tasting to get you started.


To read more about  wine tasting:


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