The deep study of wine, or “oenology,” can seem like a daunting undertaking for even an experienced enthusiast. However, wine lovers need not reach a sommelier level of expertise to become competent when evaluating fine wine. Gaining a deeper understanding of the wine tasting process and honing in on a few beyond-the-basics wine tasting terms can greatly enhance your next wine tasting experience.
The Wine Tasting
When you learn how to , a whole new world will open up. With practice, you’ll soon impress guests and dining companions by being able to identify flaws, varietals, and even make an educated guess about a wine’s age!
The distinct qualities of a wine become apparent through a taster’s senses of smell, taste, and sight. Each individual may come away with a different opinion about their overall preference for a given wine, but each wine’s basic traits are typically agreed upon by tasters.
Preparing for a Wine Tasting
If you attend a wine tasting event at a winery or another respected vintner, your host will have taken pains to serve each wine according to its unique, ideal conditions. You can create the proper environment for a wine tasting at home, as well. You’ll want to consider:
If a wine is served at too high a temperature, the alcohol flavor can overwhelm the wine’s other aspects, leaving the taster with the impression that the wine is lacking depth. A wine that is served too cold can suffer a similar .
Generally, full-bodied red wines should be served between 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit, fruity red and white wines at 50-60 degrees, and light, dry white wines at just 40-50 degrees. Try checking the winery’s website or an online wine guide for specific recommendations.
Try to create a neutral environment for your wine tasting. A quiet, distraction-free atmosphere allows for better concentration. Consider competing aromas, as well. The scent of strong perfume, air freshener, or even a nearby fireplace can throw off a taster’s perception.
Check glasses for clarity. If they seem cloudy, give them a quick rinse with wine.
Take note of the ambient temperature. If it’s a hot day and your wine tasting is outdoors, you may want to store glasses in a refrigerator when serving dry white wines, for example. The reverse holds true when the air temperature is colder than the wine you’re serving. Consider investing in an instant-read thermometer to check the wine’s temperature.
The Wine Tasting Process
There are four main evaluations to consider during a wine tasting:
After the pour, well-versed wine tasters take a in the glass, evaluating it from various angles: straight-on, from the side, at an angle, and by the way it looks like when swirled in the glass. This examination can reveal information about a wine's density, age, and weight. Generally, wine with a clear, bright "sparkle" is likely a quality wine.
Evaluating the complex aromas in a wine might be the most difficult technique to perfect. Wine tasters will breathe in the scent of a wine via several short sniffs followed by a moment of contemplation away from the glass.
The smell of a wine can give an experienced taster clues about its age, quality, and even how the wine was stored before it was bottled. Sniffing a wine can also alert you to flaws in the wine, including whether it was bottled too early, spoilage, or acidic and bitter flavors that can point to a lower quality of wine. When sniffing a wine, you're looking for a ripe scent with no "off" bitter, musty, or acidic smells.
Everyone’s favorite part of the experience, tasting the wine, brings all the senses together. Here, you’ll want to take just a sip of wine and rely on your taste buds to give you further clues about the wine at hand, and more importantly, whether it’s a by the glass. Wine enthusiasts are often seeking a wine with harmonious, complex flavors that "dance," or evolve, in the mouth.
When all three senses align, you've come across a "complete" wine - one that has a lasting finish, a pleasing aroma, and a classically beautiful sparkle.
Common Wine Tasting Terms
When you’ve experienced several tastings with the goal of gaining more wine knowledge, you’ll be able to evaluate the quality and balance of a given wine with more confidence. Along the way, you are sure to encounter several common wine tasting terms:
Acidity: the tartness of a wine. Is it crisp or “flabby” tasting?
Aeration: Introducing oxygen into the wine by letting it mix with air. Some people call this step “opening up” a wine. Aeration can be achieved with specialized aeration tools or by simply decanting a bottle of wine into another pouring vessel.
Appellation: Where a wine originated geographically.
Body: A “mouthfeel” evaluation. Does the wine have a in your mouth?
Bouquet: The overall scent of a wine.
Finish: The endurance of a wine’s aftertaste. When the flavor lingers, the wine is said to have a long finish, while a wine with little lingering aftertaste has a short finish.
Horizontal/vertical tasting: Horizontal tasting includes sampling wines from a specific year created by different wineries, usually located in the same regions as one another. Vertical tasting refers to a sampling of multiple wines from a single winery with differing vintages.
Jammy: As opposed to a “fruity” wine, which has more of a fresh fruit flavor, a jammy wine offers a cooked fruit taste.
Minerality/earthiness: Wines with strong minerality are said to have a stone-influenced aroma and taste, while earthy wines bring the taste and scent of soil to mind.
Legs: The streaks of wine left on the glass when the wine is swirled. Wines with more legs contain more alcohol and glycerin, which often leads to a dense, bold-tasting wine.
Oaked: Wine that has been aged in .
Oxidation: Occurs when a wine has been overexposed to oxygen. Oxidation is a negative quality in most wines, though sherry is an exception to this rule of thumb.
Sediment: the grit sometimes found at the bottom of a wine bottle. Surprisingly, sediment is often a positive attribute, a sign that the wine has undergone less processing.
Tannins: The compounds in the seeds and skins of grapes. Tannins are more prominent in red wines versus white. More tannins mean a dryer wine. Wines can become overly tannic.
Terroir: The effect of the region affects a wine’s qualities.
Varietal: A grape variety. Common varietals include cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay, and pinot noir.
Vintage: A wine crafted from grapes harvested in a single year. Non-vintage wines include grapes harvested from multiple years.
After the Tasting
Maintaining a is an easy way to keep track of wines you enjoyed and why you enjoyed them. This record can help you make informed choices when you try a new wine, and creates a handy list to reference when you want to stock up on your top picks.
Now that you’re more well-versed in wine terminology, you’ll be able to select wines for your next shipment with confidence. You might even consider a themed selection based on similar terroirs or bouquets, or host a horizontal or vertical wine tasting at home.
No matter where your wine tastings lead you, you’re in the right place to track down your favorites. Whether you’re after a full-bodied Spanish tempranillo, a vintage Northern California pinot noir, or a refreshing rosé from the Côte d'Azur, you’ll find exactly what you need at . Put together a case today!