The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

How To Use Your Senses in Wine Tasting

Posted on | November 5, 2015 | Written by Francesco Vigorito | No Comments

Spitting_1-300x225Tasting wine and learning to verbalize that experience is no different than anything else in life; the only way to get better at it is to practice.  Whether you are tasting wine on a more formal level or just enjoying it with some friends, it’s always important to take a couple of seconds and describe to yourself what you have in front of you. Especially when blind tasting, your ability to recall previously tasted wines is a huge factor, so writing notes and going over them the next day are extremely helpful. Tasting is just like learning to exercise any other “muscle”: the more you work it the bigger it gets.

When you are done, you should be able to tell the type of the wine you tasted by just reading what you have written. Here is how I like to compose my notes (I’m looking specifically at red wine because it’s kind of the default setting for red wine. The process, though not the details, is mostly the same for white wines):

Sight: This might be the least helpful of them all, but it will still give you some clues as to what grape it could be and how old the wine is, especially when tasting red wine. Look at the wine in the glass; then swirl it and see how the legs, or the rivulets that run down the side of the glass look. Red wine starts our purple, then moves to ruby, red, brick and finally brown as it gets older. Also take note of the viscosity as this will help make confirmation of the weight on the palate. Don’t get too hung up on the legs, just take note on how prominent they are.

Smell: This sense is perhaps the most important. We have the ability to distinguish over a thousand aromatic compounds, and certain grapes show specific aromatics, making smell wildly helpful. I always check for the ripeness of the aromatics in every glass that comes close to my nose.  Riper aromas will give a good indication of warmer climates and vice versa. Also, it is important to note the maturity of the fruit.  Are the aromas still primary?  Or have they evolved secondary and tertiary characteristics? Secondary and tertiary characteristics—notes such as leather, cigar tobacco and tar—can indicate an older vintage or a wine that’s mature despite its chronological age.

Spitting_2-300x225Taste: This sense is smell’s conjoined twin. What you taste in your mouth is more or less an extension of what you smell, but despite that closeness in physical processes, the aroma of a wine and the taste of a wine can be very different–or very much the same. See what aromatics get replicated, amplified, or excluded from the wine’s taste. See also whether the taste changes. Many wines start out fruity and end dry, or build from woody to flowery, or undergo some other transformation. Note too how “clean” the flavors are, whether they seem to unfold in the glass or over time, and how long they last.

Feel:  This part, when assessed correctly, is the most helpful part in describing a wine to someone. In your mouth, does it feel more like water or more like cream?  Does the wine feel angular on the palate or round and smooth?  Also take note on how dry the wine is and how much you can feel the alcohol, as these will both give indication as to origin and variety. Now it’s time to look at the structure as this will determine how long a wine can last.  Tannins can either be very prominent or very light.  Are they rough or silky? Green or ripe? Harsh green tannins are never good, but round silky tannins are a sign of balance and maturity.

Conclusion:  The finish of wine might be the most important quality. After all, if you are drinking a $100 bottle, you should let that delicious flavor linger for a while!  You also want to take what you have written down qualitatively and transform it into a brief tasting note.  This is what you will ultimately remember, and it can help you buy wine that you suspect you’ll like even when you’ve never had it before. It’s also fun to impress your friends with your newfound skills.

Join us for one of our wine events to help hone your palate. There’s nothing like experience–delicious, delicious experience.


Leave a Reply