Skip to main content

My Cheat Sheet for Wine Tasting

Originally from Burlington, VT, Meghan currently resides in Plattsburgh, NY, where she attends graduate school.

Napa Valley, CA

Napa Valley, CA

Wine Tasting Cheat Sheet

I have my sister to thank for my love of wine tasting. Because of her, I think I've gone wine tasting 30+ times. For a 26-year-old, I think that's pretty good. Although I consider myself to be an intermediate taster, my sister and her fiancé are experts. They go wine tasting nearly every weekend.

I want to make it known that I do not consider myself to be an expert on wine. This article is intended as a basic guideline for inexperienced wine tasters, based on my personal experience.

I decided to write this article because I was having a conversation with some of my classmates in my graduate program about wine tasting. None of them had ever done it before, but all of them expressed apprehension about going. For this reason, I thought it would be nice to write a sort of "cheat sheet" for beginner wine tasters. I understand how intimidating it could be at first—especially if you feel that you know nothing about wine. But I'm here to tell you, you can do it!

My boyfriend and I wine tasting outside of Odd Fellows Home at Belvoir Winery in Liberty, MI.

My boyfriend and I wine tasting outside of Odd Fellows Home at Belvoir Winery in Liberty, MI.

Wine Cheat Sheet

I love the infographic I featured below. It gives you a good idea of what common wines taste like without overloading you with information.

When you go wine tasting, you will be provided with a menu of wines to taste. Some places will serve you a sample of each wine on this list, while others will have you choose—three whites and three reds for example. Wine tasting can either be free or cost between $5-$20, depending on where you go. White wine and dessert wine are typically served chilled, while red wine is served at room temperature.

Wine chart

Wine chart

Tasting Order

  • White before red: You'll typically taste all of the white wines before red. And dessert wines are always served last.
  • Dry before sweet: A winery will most likely have you taste a chardonnay before a Riesling as the sweetness of sweet wine will cause the dry wine to become acidic.
  • Light before heavy body: you will taste a pinot grigio before a chardonnay because you don't want the fullness of the chardonnay to overcloud the pinot.

Keep in mind that you'll not always find this true at every winery. I've found the order to vary from winery to winery.

Tips and Tricks

  • Smell the wine before you taste it and read the descriptions thoroughly. My sister and I have a lot of fun trying to pinpoint notes of "leather" and "licorice." With incessant sinus issues, the only distinction I can make sometimes is white from red (sadly).
  • Ask a lot of questions. A lot of wineries are small and family-owned. They are extremely proud to tell you about how they grow their grapes.
  • Don't be afraid to let your server know you're a beginner. Their job is to educate you and ensure that you have an enjoyable experience.
  • Tasting room servers won't be offended if you don't like a particular wine. This is why they provide buckets (or vases) so you can pour out a sample if you don't like it.
  • Try not to rush through the tasting and take your time. Enjoy yourself. Usually, tasting room staff will be serving you as well as other patrons.
  • Don't feel pressured to buy a bottle. Although it's great that you're choosing to support the winery, your tasting room server is not expecting you to.
  • Tip your tasting room server. A couple of dollars per person tasting is appropriate. I have also never met a server who has not provided great conversation while tasting.
  • A lot of wineries don't serve food. After a tasting, my sister and I used to buy a glass and sit on the winery's patio while enjoying a baguette and cheese we brought with us.
Elizabeth Spencer Winery in CA

Elizabeth Spencer Winery in CA

Other Useful Information for Beginners?

The information in this article is in no way exhaustive. It is intended to provide a basic guideline to wine tasting to make beginner tasters feel more at ease. Do you think I missed something? Comment below with your own wine tasting tips.