The traditional wine tasting steps follow a 5-step evaluation process. These basic steps help to take you beyond personal preferences for wine taste. You can identify wine characteristics like dry and black fruits and use many other descriptive wine terms.
We will cover each of those wine tasting steps in detail and conclude with two bonus steps to help you appreciate your wine further.
Wine experts consider the appearance of wine as a crucial aspect of the wine tasting process. This initial assessment helps set the stage for the overall evaluation of the wine’s quality and characteristics.
Step 1: Look at the Wine’s Appearance
Every guide to wine tasting steps starts with the wine’s appearance. This step is significant in wine tasting because it doesn’t involve the taste buds or alcohol content. When a wine taster tries multiple wines in succession, your senses can be overwhelmed by the alcohol and flavors.
By starting your tasting process with appearance, you’ll be better prepared to enjoy your first sip of wine. Use the following tips to appreciate the wine’s appearance in detail.
Use A White Background or a White Surface
To better discern its color and clarity, wine experts often examine the wine against a white background or a neutral-colored surface. A white background allows for a clear contrast, making it easier to observe subtle variations in the wine’s appearance.
A blank sheet of printer paper is a good bet. In case of spills, come prepared with a few sheets of paper.
Use Natural Light When Possible
When possible, natural light is preferred for examining a wine’s appearance. This helps to reveal the true colors of the wine without distortion, as artificial lighting can sometimes alter the perception of color.
That said, most of us tend to drink wine in the evening, so natural light may not be available. In this case, get close to a quality light. Shadows are not your friend in a blind tasting.
A Completely Clean Wine Glass
Your glass of wine will not tell you much unless you start with a spotless glass. Having multiple glasses is essential even if you are tasting similar wines (i.e., a selection of white wines).
While discussing wine glasses, ensure you know how to hold a wine glass.
Visual Appeal of Wines
The appearance of wine is the first impression it makes on the taster. It sets the stage for the overall experience and can influence one’s expectations and initial perceptions of the wine’s quality and style. For example, check to see if there is sediment (i.e., sludge) in the wine.
Compare Your Appearance Notes With Others
A wide range of wine tips can make your wine experience more fun. Attending a formal wine tasting or an exploration event like the Winetasters of Toronto is an excellent way to learn more.
In particular, ask for recommendations on glassware, lighting, and the angle at which to hold the glass for optimal assessment.
Want Further Guidance?
Taking a wine course is a great way to enhance your perception of wine flavors. Before starting this website, I took several wine courses through George Brown College in Toronto. It’s a great way to explore a wide range of bottles, including inexpensive wines and expensive wine.
Step 2: Swirl The Wine For A Fuller Experience
Swirling wine is an essential and graceful ritual in evaluating complex wines, helping experts and enthusiasts explore the intricate tapestry of flavors within a glass. This elegant motion transcends mere aesthetics; it plays a pivotal role in unraveling the intricate nuances hidden within grape varieties and the taste of wine.
When wine connoisseurs swirl their glasses, they encourage the wine to harmonize with oxygen. As the wine gracefully spirals within the glass, it undergoes aeration, permitting volatile compounds to dissipate and the aromatic characteristics of different grape varieties to ascend.
This exposure to air not only opens up the wine with ease. The bouquet of wine comes up further because the harsh notes are softened, and subtler fragrances emerge. Appreciating the wine aroma helps narrow the wine into broad categories and identify the potential grape variety.
Moreover, swirling creates a delicate wine film on the glass’s interior. A range of descriptors like “wine legs” or “tears” are often used to describe this film in the glass. Observing these characteristics enables tasters to discern the wine’s viscosity, providing insights into its body and structure and offering clues about its alcoholic content.
Yet, swirling is not solely a scientific endeavor—it’s an artistic expression of admiration for the taste of wine. Experts pay close attention to how the wine adheres to the glass, its color transformations, and the intricate patterns it weaves as it moves. These elements enrich the overall sensory experience, granting tasters a more comprehensive grasp of the wine’s character and quality.
In the world of wine, swirling is both a practical technique and an enchanting ballet that fully opens the inherent grape aromas and deeper aromas. With a modern wine, the swirl is essential to exploring the delicate aromas and identifying the wine in a blind tasting.
Step 3: Sniffing the Wine
Sniffing wine is a captivating and integral aspect of wine tasting, allowing enthusiasts and experts to delve deep into the aromatic intricacies that define a wine’s identity. This olfactory exploration uncovers primary aromas, secondary aromas, and nuances related to levels of fruit, elevating the overall aromatic experience and unveiling clues about the wine’s geographic origin.
Your ability to appreciate a wine’s aroma depends mainly on two factors. First, your olfactory receptor (i.e., Sense of smell) can be more or less sensitive. Fortunately, experience with a variety of wine styles and practice with wine tasting steps can improve your appreciation of wine aromas.
As the glass approaches the nose, the first inhalation reveals the primary aromas stem directly from the grape variety itself. These initial scents can encompass a spectrum of fragrances, from the vibrant notes of tropical fruits in a Sauvignon Blanc to the dark, luscious berries found in a Cabernet Sauvignon. These primary aromas are foundational, reflecting the grape’s unique character and ripeness.
Upon deeper investigation, the taster may discern secondary aromas shaped by the winemaking process. These include notes of oak, vanilla, spice, or hints of fermentation, contributing to the complexity of the wine. The balance between primary and secondary aromas provides a more profound understanding of the wine’s craftsmanship.
Sniffing can further explore fruit levels, offering insights into the wine’s ripeness and potential aging potential. Aromas may range from fresh, youthful fruit to dried or stewed fruit, conveying the wine’s stage of development.
The land of origin for the wine can often be detected through the subtle nuances captured during the sniffing process. The terroir—comprising factors such as soil, climate, and vineyard practices—imparts unique scents that become distinctive signatures of a particular region. Specific producers in wine regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux have specific styles and aromas. Keep that in mind as you smell different wines.
Inhaling profoundly and thoughtfully while swirling the wine in the glass enhances the aromatic experience, immersing tasters in a fuller, more comprehensive encounter with the wine. Sniffing wine is a sensorial journey, an art that transforms smelling into a profound exploration of a wine’s personality, origins, and craftsmanship.
Step 4: Sip The Wine
Sipping the wine is my favorite part of the wine tasting steps. It is the moment when you dig into the complex taste experience of an individual wine. Most people notice fruit flavors first, such as tropical fruit, green apple, citrus fruits, fresh fruit, black pepper, or even green bell pepper. Use the following tips to sip your wine like a wine expert.
Start With A Small Sip
Whether you’re tasting a special bottle from the Napa Valley or the best Bordeaux wine, starting small is wise. A significant part of wine appreciation is taking your time with wine. Avoid gulping! Take a small sip and consider the following points.
Identify Fruit Flavors
Fruity flavors are the most significant taste in most wines. You might notice a ripe apple in a white wine. Or you might enjoy a strawberry flavor in a red wine. Start with identifying broad categories of fruit: red fruits (e.g., strawberry, raspberry, or red currant), black fruits (e.g., blackberry), citrus fruits (e.g., lemon, lime, or orange), and tropical fruits.
As you gain more experience with these wine tasting steps, make your fruit flavor description more specific. For example, instead of describing a wine as having blue fruit notes, get specific by mentioning blueberries.
Look For Secondary Flavors
When you read the analysis of experts, secondary flavors are typical. In my view, secondary flavors are non-fruit flavors. For example, a well-oaked Chardonnay wine might have vanilla, spice, or toast notes. You might also find a mineral quality. Oak aging is often excellent, but it is not the only way to create a balanced wine.
Determine if you have a sweeter, off-dry, or dry wine. There are technical descriptions for these levels of sweetness based on residual sugar content. In practice, that level of precision is rarely used.
Consider Alcohol Levels and Acidity
When professional wine tasters consider a quality wine, they also take a moment to consider alcohol levels (through taste and the tears of wine test mentioned above). In addition, they look at acidity. The acid in wine compliments the sugar content in a bottle of wine.
Step 5: Savor The Wine
The final step of the wine tasting process is to savor your wine. Take a few more sips. Consider how a food pairing enhances the wine (or not!).
Two Bonus Wine Tasting Steps
Whether you are a wine professional or simply a wine enthusiast, there are additional aspects of wine tasting to use. The following simple steps will make your wine tasting experience even better.
1 Journal About Your Wine
Making notes about your wine preferences as you taste more wines is essential. You might remember a great bottle of wine you enjoyed at a wine bar. Without a few notes, you’re unlikely to remember the fruity aromas and other qualities that make a given style of wine memorable.
Journaling about your wine tasting is easy when you follow these steps.
Take a photo of the wine bottle label with your phone
A photo of the label is a great starting point because it contains critical information like the winery name, alcohol content, vintage year, and more. Otherwise, you’ll find it tough to remember precisely which Pinot Grigio you enjoyed so much!
Write down a few notes about what you liked and didn’t like about the wine
Take note of what you liked and what you didn’t. For example, did you discover the dessert wines category? If so, write down your thoughts on it (e.g., color intensity, beautiful aromas, dominant fruit aromas). In addition, consider the wine with food aspect. The right food pairing can elevate your wine tasting experience to the next level.
2 Discuss Your Wine Tasting With Others
Sharing bottles of wine you like with others can be a great joy. If you discover a great wine, share your experience with others. For example, you might find an exceptional wine suitable for gifting. For more on giving wine as a gift, see this guide on choosing the best wine for an engagement gift.