How to Taste Wine Like a Professional
Ok, so reading this article won’t really make you a professional wine taster but it will definitely get you started.
People have been tasting and judging the quality of different wines for thousands of years. Professional wine tasters have been making money from tasting and judging wines for more than 100 years. So what does it take to be a professional wine taster?
A professional wine taster will understand the history of wine, the grape, a knowledge of the region from which the wine came from, as well as the science behind making wine. The best professional wine tasters however, will have developed the skill over time, having plenty of experience at purposefully tasting wine using his senses and developing the skill of recognising the desired and not so desired characteristics of each wine they taste.
Wine tasting and wine evaluation are two different skills. Wine tasting is more about education, to help you understand a wine and to let you decide if you like the wine, or not. Wine evaluation is for a deeper, more critical look at the wine, or wines in question and is used at wine shows to compare the quality of one wine over another.
Look, Smell, Taste and Think
Just like food, you first notice the wine by what it looks like. The colour of the wine can tell you a lot about it. Tilt the glass and hold it over a white surface such as a white table cloth and notice the depth of the colour from the rim of the glass to the centre of the glass.
Of course colours are going to vary depending on the type of wine but basically you will be noticing the hue (yellows, blues, purples etc), the intensity of the colour (how opaque it is) and the viscosity (is it watery or viscous).
Your sense of smell is a key component to understanding how to taste wine like a professional.
To the well trained nose, aromas in wine can reveal amazing things about a wine including the grape variety(ies) used, the aging regime, the region, and even the vintage.
To simplify aromas can be sorted into three categories:
Primary Aromas come from the interaction between the grape and yeast. They can include fruity, flower, and herb-like scents.
Secondary Aromas come mostly from microbes such as yeast. They include cheese, cream, sourdough, or beer-like smells.
Tertiary Aromas come from the aging and oxidation process. They include vanilla, maple, browned butter, and nut-like scents.
To smell a wine like a professional, hold your glass right under your nose and slowly move it away (while sniffing) until you can pick out individual aromas. Swirling the wine in your glass concentrates the aromas and can help you pick out flavors more easily. If your nose is overloaded, smell your forearm. It helps reset your sense of smell.
Tasting wine is like touching the wine and evaluating the texture and how it feel. Tasting the wine reveals a lot about the wine’s physical traits which include:
- sweetness (is it sweet or dry)
- acidity (how sour is the wine)
- tannin (how mouth-drying is the wine)
- alcohol (is there a warming or burning sensation)
- Body (does it fill your mouth with flavour)
- Finish (flavor the wine finishes with – bitter, sweet, smoky etc)
- Length (how long does the flavour stay on your palate)
- Layers (does the flavour change at all)
Developing a highly tuned wine palate takes time but you can speed up the process by thinking carefully after tasting each wine. The goal is to pick out the key characteristics of a wine in the way it looks, smells, and tastes. Ask yourself, what makes this wine different than others?