Let’s keep it simple and not over complicate the wine tasting process.
Here is a really easy 5 step process that will help you enjoy your wine tasting experience:
- Life your glass by the stem to avoid warming the wine in the bowl of your glass.
- Raise your glass to check the wine’s colour – it should be clear, not cloudy.
- Swirl the liquid by gently rotating your wrist; as the wine leaves trails, or tears, it reveals alcohol content.
- Sniff deeply and try to identify the wine’s traits, which could range from essence of raspberry to chocolate, or even tobacco!
- Sip – but don’t swallow, yet. Hold the wine and swish it across your tongue and inner cheeks before exhaling slowly through both nose and mouth. The taste will be that much more vivid!
Do you know why you should spit out wine when just tasting? I know it’s a bit unseemly but there is a good reason.
When tasting a number of wines, each mouthful should be ejected after full assessment to prevent the alcohol from affecting the ability to taste.
Yet some wine will remain, even after spitting out, coating the inner surface of the mouth, where it is absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
Contrary to popular belief, the more you taste the better you taste, but it is a race between the wine sharpening the palate and the alcohol dulling the brain! So, do taste responsibly.
Glossary of Wine Terms to Help With Your Wine Tasting
Acidity: the liveliness and crispness noted in wine.
Aeration: the deliberate addition of oxygen to wine to round out and soften a wine.
Ageing: holding wine in barrels, tanks, and bottles to advance them to a more desirable state.
Alcohol: ethanol (ethyl alcohol), the product of fermentation of sugars by yeast.
Appellation: a delineated wine producing region, particular to France. Numerous criteria have to be met to qualify.
Aroma: the scent of the grape, as well as the smell of wine, especially young wines. (different than “bouquet”)
Asomnia: the loss of smell.
Astringent: tasting term noting the harsh, bitter, drying sensations in the mouth caused by high levels of tannins.
Balance: when the elements of wine – acids, sugars, tannins, alcohol – come together in a harmonious way, it is said to be “balanced”.
Barrel: the container – preferably oak – used for fermenting and ageing wine.
Barrique: a 225-litre oak barrel used in storing and ageing Bordeaux wines.
Bitter: a taste sensation largely caused by tannins that is sensed on the back of the tongue.
Blend: a wine made from more than one grape varietal.
Body: a tactile sensation and term describing the weight and fullness of wine in the mouth. A wine can be light, medium, or full bodied.
Bordeaux: the area in Southwest France considered by some as the greatest wine-producing region in the world.
Botrytis: a good mould that pierces the skin of grapes and causes dehydration, resulting in natural grape juice exceptionally high in sugar. Botrytis is largely responsible for the world’s finest dessert wines. (see “noble rot”).
Bouquet: a term that refers to the complex aromas in ages wines.
Breathing: allowing wine to come in contact with air to open and improve the flavours.
Brettanomyce: A wine-spoiling yeast that produces barnyard, mousey, metallic, and band-aidish aromas.
Brilliant: a tasting note pertaining to wines that appear sparkling clear.
Brut: french term denoting dry champagnes or sparkling wines.
Bung: the plug used to seal a wine barrel.
Bung hole: the opening in a cask in which wine can be put in or taken out.
Chaptalisation: when sugar is added to wine before or during fermentation to increase alcohol levels. Chaptalisation is illegal in some parts of the world, and highly controlled in others.
Bitric acid: one of the three predominate acids in wine.
Claret: the name the English use when referring to the red wines of Bordeaux.
Closed: term describing underdeveloped and young wines whose flavours are not exhibiting well.
Complex: a wine exhibiting numerous odours, nuances, and flavours.
Cork taint: undesirable aromas and flavours in wine often associated with wet cardboard and/or Moldy basements.
Corked: a term that denotes a wine that has suffered cork taint (not wine with cork particles floating about).
Cru classé: a top-ranking vineyard designated in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855.
Crush: the English term for harvest.
Cuvee: in Champagne, a blended batch of wine.
Demi-sec: french term meaning “half-dry”. Confusing, as it is used to describe a sweet sparkling wine.
Dry: opposite of sweet. A taste sensation often attributed to tannins and causing puckering sensations in the mouth.
Earthy: an odour or flavour reminiscent of damp soil.
Enology: the science of wine and winemaking (see “oenology”)
Fermentation: the conversion of grape sugars to alcohol by yeast.
Fining: the addition of egg whites or gelatin (to name a few) to clear the wine of unwanted
Particles and other components.
Finish: The impression of textures and flavours lingering in the mouth after a wine is swallowed.
Flavours: Odours perceived in the mouth.
Foxy: a term that notes the musty odour and flavours of wines made from vitis labrusca – a common North American varietal.
Fruity: a tasting term signifying wines that exhibit strong smells and flavours of fresh fruit. Can also describe aromas of cooked fruit, as in “jammy”.
Full-bodied: a wine high in alcohol and flavours, often described as “big”.
Herbaceous: a tasting term denoting odours and flavours of fresh herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, rosemary) in a wine.
Hot: wine high in alcohol is often described as producing a “hot” burning sensation in the mouth.
Lees: sediment consisting of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, seed, and other grape matter that accumulates during fermentation.
Leesy: a tasting term noting the rich aromas and smells resulting from a wine which spends time resting on its lees.
Length: how long the flavours of a wine persist in the mouth after swallowed; a lingering aftertaste.
Long: denotes the length of time a wine’s presence stays in the mouth after swallowing.
Malic acid: one of the three predominate acids intrinsic in grapes. Tart-tasting malic acid occurs naturally in a number of fruits, including, apples, cherries, plums, and tomatoes.
Malolactic fermentation: a secondary fermentation in which lactic acid bacterias are added to wines so that tart-tasting malic acids convert into softer lactic ones. Wines described as “buttery” or “creamy” have gone through “malo”.
Mature: ready to drink.
Mouth-feel: how a wine feels in one’s mouth – (e.g., rough, smooth, velvety, furry).
Must: unfermented grape juice (including seeds, skins, and stems).
Negociant: French word describing a wholesale merchant, blender, or shipper of wine.
Noble rot: layman’s term for ‘botrytis”. (See botrytis). nose: how a wine smells. A tasting term describing the aromas and bouquets of a wine. oak/oaky: tasting term denoting smells and flavours of vanilla and toast.
Oenology: the science of wine and winemaking (see “enology”).
Open: tasting term signifying a wine that is ready to drink.
Oxidation: wine exposed to air that has undergone a chemical change. The deteriorating wine will exhibit stale smells and colours can look brown.
Phenolic compounds: natural compounds present in grape skins and seeds.
Phylloxera: a microscopic insect that kills grape vines by attacking their roots. A breakout in the 19th century nearly destroyed part of Europe’s and France’s wine industry.
Plonk: British slang for inexpensive wine. Also used to describe very low-quality wines.
Rough: the tactile “coarse” sensation one experiences with very astringent wines. A tasting term, and not to be confused with “bitter”. sec: French word for “dry”.
Spicy: a tasting term used to note odours and flavours reminiscent of various aromatic spices that are found in certain wines.
Structure: an ambiguous tasting term that implies harmony of fruit, alcohol, acidity, and tannins.
Sweet: wines with perceptible sugar contents on the nose and in the mouth. Sweet, as a tasting sensation, is perceived on the tip of the tongue.
Tannins: the phenolic compounds in wines that leave a bitter, dry, puckery feeling in the mouth.
Tartaric acid: the principal acid in grapes, tartaric acid promotes flavour and ageing in wine.
Terroir: French for “soil”. Geographical characteristics – chalk, gravel, sand, clay – along with other environmental factors unique to a given vineyard, are also denoted by terroir.
Texture: a tasting term describing how the wine being tasted feels on the palate. “Texture” is used more often when describing heavy, dense wines with a big mouthfeel.
Typicity: a tasting term that describes how well a wine expresses the characteristics inherent to the variety of grape represented.
Ullage: the empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates. When in barrels, one must keep ullage at a minimum so the wine does not oxidize.
Vegetal: tasting term describing characteristics of fresh or cooked vegetables detected on the nose and in the flavours of the wine. Bell peppers, grass, and asparagus are common “vegetal” descriptors.
Vinification: the process of making wine.
Vitis vinifera: the species of wine that comprises over 99% of the world’s wine.
Vinology: the study of wine in a classroom setting, typically at a wine school.
Vintage: the year in which a wine is bottled. Also, the yield of wine from a vineyard during a single season.
Weight: similar to “body”, the thicker or richer a wine feels in the mouth, the more weight is described as having.
Wine: fermented juice of grapes.
Yeast: a microorganism – endemic to vineyards and produced commercially – that converts grape sugars into alcohol.
Yield: the productivity of a vineyard.
Young: an immature wine that is usually bottled and sold within a year of its vintage. Wines meant to be drunk “young” are noted for their fresh and crisp flavours.