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How to Properly Taste Wine

Updated on September 11, 2017
Mark Mikhail profile image

Mark is a professional winemaker and is working on his WSET diploma. He has also taught wine tasting and pairing classes at a college level.

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Wine is a precarious aphrodisiac, and its fumes have blighted many a mating.

— Norman Douglas

The 5 S's

In order to do a proper wine tasting, you should understand the 5 S's to doing a tasting like a pro. They go in order like this:

1. Sight

2. Swirl

3. Sniff

4. Sip

5. Savor

1. Sight

The first step to a wine tasting is looking at it. Tip your glass at an angle and look at it. How would you describe this wine? Is it clear or hazy? How deep is the color? You can use this guide to help you out.

1. Is it clear or hazy? If the wine was filtered, then it should be clear. If it's hazy, it's not necessarily a fault. You may just have an unfiltered wine, which is common for smaller wineries.

2. How intense is the color? It can be described as pale, medium, or deep.

3. What color is it? If it's a white, would you describe it as a lemon, gold, or amber? If it's a rose, is it pink or orange? If it's red, would you call it a purple, ruby, garnet, or tawny? Try your best to describe it as close as possible, and you don't necessarily have to go by the colors I've mentioned. Any color will fit as long as you can describe the wine to anyone else.

It should be mentioned that darker colors are typically an indicator of age. An amber white wine is a wine that has been aged for quite some time. If you are tasting a young wine that is amber in color, then you may have a faulty wine on your hands.

It should be mentioned that darker colors are typically an indicator of age.

2. Swirl

This step is simple, but crucial. You have to set the aromas free within this wine that has been cooped up in that bottle. In fact, the oxygen interaction involved with swirling the wine volatizes the phenolic compounds within the wine that creates the aromas that we are familiar with. So all you have to do is move your glass quickly in a clockwise or counterclockwise manner, either on a table or hold the glass up. I always imagined it as trying to draw a thousand circles with a pencil.

The oxygen interaction involved with swirling the wine volatizes the phenolic compounds within the wine that creates the aromas that we are familiar with

3. Sniff

Sniffing your wine is absolutely crucial. In order to get an idea of what flavors may be in this wine, you have to smell it. When you do, you engage the olfactory nerves within your nose which contribute to most of the flavors you may be familiar with. I personally will start with a short sniff followed by a long whiff whenever I'm doing a wine tasting to get the full range of aromas.

1. Does the wine smell clean or does it smell like it has any faults? A fault could be something like the smell of vinegar, or musty cardboard

2. Are the aromas light, medium, or pronounced? How strong the aromas are may indicate intense flavors when you go to sip the wine.

3. What do you smell? Any fruits? Floral? Spice? Vegetal? Oak? Anything else?

What do you smell?

4. Sip

Now for the most fun part: the sip. When you go to sip, try to actually slurp it. When you incorporate a little air into your sip, you engage in the retronasal motion of your olfactory nerves and get some more delicate flavors. Then you swish the wine all over your mouth to let the tongue meet the wine fully, and finally you either swallow it or spit it (quietly) into a spittoon.

1. How sweet is it? Would you call it dry, off-dry, medium, or sweet? Dry means that there is no detection of sugar left in the wine.

2. How acidic is the wine? Low, medium, or high? I always characterized acidity by how much it makes my mouth water.

3. How tannic is the wine? Low, medium, or high? Tannins are a character of astringency (the reason why cranberries make your mouth pucker). A wine high in tannins will make your mouth feel like its imploding.

4. How's the body of the wine? Light, medium, or full? Try to describe how well it coats your palette. I always think that light is like fat free milk, medium is like 2% milk, and full is like whole milk.

5. How would you describe the flavor of the wine? Any fruit? Floral? Vegetal? Do your best.

6. How long is the finish? Is it short, medium, or long? If it's a long finish, that's usually an indicator of a quality wine.

A wine high in tannins will make your mouth feel like its imploding.

5. Savor

This is where you draw your final conclusions on the wine. Is it faulty? Is it clean? Does it remind you of anything? Perhaps the rose petals in the Gewurtztraminer reminded you of your favorite baklava as a kid, or the Riesling gave you the idea that you were having really tart limeade. Wine can create an incredible amount of flavors and aromas. It just comes down to how you perceive them.

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