Ok. You’ve charted your course to three wineries and you’ve even picked out a restaurant nearby to stop for lunch. Now comes the time to actually step up to the bar and try the wine. While you’re there, try to focus on these three components:
Smell the wine
Have you ever seen fellow wine tasters swirl the wine inside of their glass? That’s due to bringing the aromas out in the glass. Oxygen is your friend. You want to get air into your wine so it starts to exfoliate it’s aromas.
While you’re at it, get your nose completely into that glass. Smelling from even an inch out means you’re smelling something else, or some really weak smell.
A wine glass is tapered so that the aromas stay trapped in the glass. Translation, you won’t get much if you try to smell beyond the lip. You might look cooler doing it, but in the end, you won’t get much out of that smell.
A good approach is to simply swirl the wine, tilt the wine glass a tad, and lean your nose entirely in the glass. Smell near the bottom of the glass too. The alcohol rises to the top and the aromas are nearer to the bottom. Take a few seconds and draw in a good whiff of air into your nose.
Sit with that smell. The bouquet, as it’s referred to in the wine business, is the initial smell that you get from the aromas of the wine. You might also hear “…on the nose” said by the tasting staff. That’s literally because it’s going to hit your nose before it hits your taste buds.
I’ve spent nearly half of my time simply smelling the wine. I love the tease of the senses, almost an appetizer of what is to come. Sometimes it is a delight, and sometimes it can be a let down.
If the wine smells funny to you, ask the staff. You might have had a corked bottle. If it smells like sawdust or a band aid, chances are good that the cork went bad and the wine went downhill. It happens. And while the staff does every check imaginary to make sure you don’t receive a corked bottle, it is a numbers game.
If the wine smells great, tell the staff. As someone who works behind the counter, I love to hear what fellow wine tasters pick up. While I could have tasted a wine hundreds of times, there are always subtle nuances that run past my palate that you might pick up. The key to smelling wine is to go with your first instinct. Just accept that you smell green peppers (herbaceous) or bright cherries.
Sip / Spit the wine
Aside from the alcoholic component of wine, how many other activities involve sticking your nose into something and then spitting it out, all while looking super suave? That’s the best part about wine tasting. You’re nearly complimented for not drinking.
Whether you choose to spit or drink the wine, it all comes back to oxygen. Get some air into your mouth if you can. The best description I have for it is to think about a backwards whistle. Instead of blowing air out, attempt to bring air into your mouth while the wine is there.
Ok, I admit it this sounds completely unsexy, but it truly does help with your ability to extract every nuance out of that wine. However, your goal is try to keep an open mind along with an open mouth (well, not while swallowing).
Our taste buds send signals through our nose and then to our brain. Have you ever noticed that when you are stuffed up, everything tastes like chicken? That’s because your nose is not working, and thus your taste buds aren’t as well.
Take the time to enjoy that sip of wine. Don’t down it like that shot of tequila you last took on your vacation to Tijuana, Mexico (and side note, tequila was originally designed for sipping too, though you wouldn’t think that given how it’s taken on a new methodology).
With a one ounce pour, the standard pour you get at a winery, you should get one or two sips out of that glass, maybe three if the tasting staff has a heavy hand. Remember this is not a sit down tasting. You’re there to try a sampling of wine. Enjoy those two or three sips and move on.
Focus on the finish
Hold on. Don’t go reaching for a cracker or a breadstick just yet. Sit with the wine after you’ve swallowed or spit it. One of the most overlooked components to wine is the finish—or the taste after you’ve consumed it.
Have you ever noticed that on some wines you’ve taken another sip nearly a second or two longer after you swallowed it? Subconsciously, you want more of that taste since it fell off a cliff. Sometimes a wine can drop off so fast that you long to reclaim that wonderful taste and you have another taste. That’s not really a good thing.
A good wine should linger at least 30 to 60 seconds after you’ve consumed it. It should leave you with a smile and an “mmmmmm” afterwards. Your brain registers that last taste. When it disappears too quickly, you’re clamoring for more (translation, drinking again quickly).
When it lingers, and there is a tasteful long lasting finish (I admit this is sounding like a gum commercial at this point in time) you stop and admire it. You take time with each sip instead of slinging it back like those tequila shots you had in Tijuana. I can’t always equate this directly, but I have found with good bottles of wine, they take a while longer to consume. They nearly beg you to stop and study them, from before the first drop to the last aroma (great, now this is sounding like a coffee advertisement).
There are countless other nuances to think about while wine tasting, so much so you can easily forget the simple pleasures of just enjoying a sip of wine. Just bring your attention onto these three components and your time tasting to be that much better.