The art of tasting

  • © Atout France/Patrice Thébault

  • © Atout France/Cédric Helsly

The art of tasting

Tasting comprises three stages, and each one tells us different but important information about the wine. At the end of these three stages, we can judge the quality and typicality of the wine. For the sake of clear communication, the Ecole du Vin (Wine School) has selected the essential elements of these three stages and created a simplified sheet to serve as a guide during tastings.

First stage: looking at the wine

Take the glass by the stem to bring it in front of you, then tilt it towards you at a 45 degree angle, preferably in front of a white background (a tablecloth or serviette), in order to appreciate the nuances of its colour.

First observation, the intensity of the wine.

Some wines are more intense than others; this is easiest to observe in red wines. Unlike with opaque wines, you will be able to see your fingers through a glass which contains a weak intensity wine.  This colour intensity depends on a number of factors: grape variety, region of production, vintage, the vinification method, storage, etc. Generally, the younger the wine is, the more intense it will be. Similarly, wines produced in warm regions or during particularly warm years have an intense colour.

Second observation, the colour of the wine.

The colour indicates the stage of evolution of the wine. As they evolve, white wines change from pale yellow to develop golden shades; rosé wines from a pale pink to develop orange shades; and red wines, which are violet when young, gradually develop ruby, garnet and mahogany shades.  Generally, wines evolve in such different ways that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions after this first stage.

Second stage: smelling the wine

While still holding the stem, bring the glass to your nose and smell the wine once without swirling it; this is the first whiff: it allows you to appreciate the wine's softest or most volatile aromas.

Next, with a simple movement of your hand, swirl the glass in front of you or on the table in anti-clockwise circles. This airs the wine, thus oxidising it, which releases other stronger aromas.

The first question is does the wine has a particular scent? Remember that all good quality wine should release relatively powerful aromas. The aromas of the wine are detected first of all by simply smelling the wine then, subsequently, by tasting it.

The personality and quality of wines are linked to their aromas. Remember, these aromas depend on the grape variety (or varieties) used to make the wine, but also on the type of soil in which the vines are planted, the climate, the vintage, the cultivation of the vines, the vinification method and, finally, the storage.

Third stage: tasting the wine

Gently take a small sip, yet enough to wet the whole palate (around 10 ml), and keep the wine on the palate.

Once the wine is in your mouth, you can detect different flavours and sensations. The first flavour you can detect is the sweetness. You can taste the sweetness on the tip of the tongue, particularly in the case of sweet wines, for example Sauternes wines. On the other hand, although the majority of wines are dry, i.e. not sweet, some can nevertheless retain a slight sweetness.

The second flavour, which is tasted on the edges of the tongue, is the acidity. This flavour, which makes us salivate, gives the wine its freshness. All wines have a degree of acidity, which is higher in white wines and wines produced in cooler climates.

Lastly, and very suddenly, there is a sensation at the back of the tongue. This flavour, which is almost bitter, causes a relatively rough sensation on the palate: this is the tannins sensation, whose origin resides in the grape skin, and which is mainly found in red wines. Young wines (1 to 5 years old) are often tannic, but this quality diminishes as the wine ages.

Finally, you experience a voluminous, strong and rich sensation on the palate: this is the consistency of the wine. The consistency of the wine comes from a combination of different elements such as the tannins, the alcohol and the sugar, and gives the wine a more or less rich and distinct "style."

Once these first flavours have been detected, the wine also emits other aromas which will subsequently overwhelm the palate: these are the aromatic components which evaporate and float up towards the nasal cavity. At the end of this stage, we try to detect new aromas, in the same way as when we sniffed the wine, by referring to the different families of aromas.

When the aromas linger on the palate, we say that the wine is long in the mouth: this is a sign of quality and complexity!