The arrival of spring means many things, but in wine country it signifies the end of winter slumber as people head out in earnest once again to follow the wine trail. Tasting wine is a fun pastime, an adventure that will give you a deeper appreciation for wine and help you better understand and evaluate it. So don’t fret. The basics of tasting are simple, and should be followed closely within the tasting room.
Before you taste, remember the three S’s — sight, smell and swirl.
One of the first things you should do with a glass of wine is look at it. Color and opacity of wine can help you approximate the age, grape varieties, acidity and sugar content. If it’s a red wine, is the color maroon, ruby, garnet, brick, or even brown? If it’s a white wine, is it clear, pale, yellow, light green, golden or even orange?
Finally, look at the “legs.” Wine legs are the droplets of wine that form on the inside of a wine glass. This can tell you whether the wine has a high or low alcohol and sugar content.
Don’t underestimate the power of your nose, as it is the main part in evaluating wine. In fact, 80 percent of wine tasting relates to the sense of smell, which contributes to your perceived taste.
Next, swirl the wine in the glass several times to release particular aromas into the air. Take a quick whiff to gain a first impression. What scent or aroma do you smell? Finally, stick your nose into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose.
Now for tasting, but first things first:
- Choose a winery wisely: Major wine regions have many different wineries from which to choose. Pick just one or two that appeal to your tastes. Do some research, and zero in on wineries that produce estate wines, or wines in smaller batches.
- Taste on an empty stomach: You may be concerned that tasting too much wine without eating first will cause inebriation, but think again. Experts recommend not eating for at least an hour prior to a tasting in order to properly clear your palate. If you do eat, avoid anything with too much garlic, onions or anything with a lingering smell or taste.
- Eat the crackers: Though you’re advised to not eat beforehand, feel free to help yourself to the crackers during the tasting. The bland snack can help with cleansing your palate in between wines, especially if you are going from tasting big, tannic reds to whites.
- Try different varietals: Wines offered during a tasting are a general representation of what that winery offers, but they’re certainly not the only options available. Don’t love the chardonnay? Ask for something else, and be as detailed as you can.
- Ask questions: To get the most out of the tasting experience, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The whole point of visiting a winery is to taste and learn about the wine. Wine should spark conversation, so ask lots of questions and learn as you enjoy.
- Remember to spit: Even the most seasoned wine taster can forget that multiple tastings add up, and can lead to some fuzzy thinking and wobbly walking. Not good. Make the spit bucket your friend. Rolling the wine around your palate is enough to taste the intricacies of any wine. It could lead to a purchase of something you can bring home and enjoy — without the spittoon.