When I go to tastings, I frequently get accused (mostly by friends and family members) of drinking wine as part of my job. This is not true (well, mostly). Tasting and drinking are different things for those who work in the wine industry.
To prove my point, I recently brought a good friend of mine to one of my favourite annual tastings just before Christmas. She has a genuine interest in wine and enjoys learning about different regions, winemakers and grape varieties. During this particular tasting, she may have forgotten about the existence of the spittoon a few times throughout the tasting or thought that a particular wine was too good to spit out. After the tasting she was happy to admit that wine tasting is not an easy job and you have to do it with great care.
So, having established that tasting and drinking are two different things in the wine world, how do you taste a wine? Follow these simple steps and you’ll be tasting like a pro in no time.
First, you look at the colour. The colour of wine can give away a lot of information about what you’re tasting. It can be a good indication of its age as well as the grape variety. You will need a white background and natural light to evaluate the colour accurately.
Then comes arguably the most important part of tasting a wine - smelling it. As our noses are more sensitive than our palates, we depend on our sense of smell to pick up the aromas in the wine. So swirl the wine around the glass to maximise the aromas and try to identify as many of them as possible. Some of them will be more obvious and prominent than others.
As you take a mouthful, you are looking for dimensions of the wine such as alcohol levels, sweetness, tannins, etc.. A good sign of quality is if all of these elements are in balance and none of them stick out too much.
You don’t have to swallow the wine in order to appreciate its characteristics fully. This is especially important if you have a large number of wines to taste which is often the case at tastings.
Keep in mind that anyone with a sense of smell and a general curiosity and interest in wine can be a wine taster so don’t be fooled by wine jargon and do your own thing. Very often even wine professionals disagree and have different opinions about wine.