How to taste wine like a pro

Wine tasting might look like it’s all for show, but follow our guide to tasting and evaluating what’s in the glass and you’ll soon be enjoying wine so much more.

Words by Ralph Kyte-Powell  


1. The white stuff
Of all the senses, sight is the least important in wine evaluation, but how a wine looks can tell you a bit about its relative age, maturity and condition. To best gauge a wine’s appearance, don’t hold the glass in the air towards the light; tilt it against a white background. A more viscous appearance can mean higher alcohol or depth of character. Young whites are usually pale, while older ones deepen in colour. A gold colour is a warning sign and brown indicates a wine that’s far too old. 

2. 50 shades of red 
Red wine loses colour with age. The purple of youth gives way to dark red, crimson, brick red and finally brown as the years pass.

Density and depth of colour can indicate body and extract in a red wine, but don’t dismiss paler styles. Some varietles, such as nebbiolo and pinot noir, can have deceptively pale hues yet retain good concentration. Any brown table wine is probably dead and gone. And cloudy or hazy wines, red and white, are usually problematic too – despite what some in the natural wine movement would have you believe. As a rule of thumb, does the wine have brightness, inviting appearance and clarity? Is it pleasing to the eye? 


3. On the nose
Since our basic sense of taste only reveals sweetness, sourness (acidity), bitterness and saltiness (and some also say umami, but I think this is a function of the balance of the other factors), most of what we taste we actually smell retronasally via our olfactory sense. This makes smell the most important sense in wine judging.

The subtleties of flavour, distinctive characteristics of a wine and qualities that give it personality are largely detected via smell. Some still believe that sniffing your wine is a pretention, but it’s an essential aid to wine evaluation. And don’t just waft the glass around, stick your nose in and have a good go. Is it an attractive smell? Good wines smell pleasant, bad wines don’t.

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