How to taste wine
Tasting has a certain number of simple rules, which confirmed tasters apply in a fast sequence that looks deceptively natural. It is more a technique than a science, and is open to everyone, but a certain number of very specific rules must be obeyed.There are three stages: looking, smelling, then tasting.
First of all, the visual stage.
Once the wine has been poured, you should look at it carefully, and observe its clarity, its transparency – or its turbidity or opacity. This will give you the initial information on the quality of the vintage (whether it produces much colour or not), the grapes used or how it has been produced. Tilting the glass slightly, look attentively at the film forming on the outer part of the liquid, and comment on any shading of colour, a sign that the wine is starting to evolve, and an indicator that it has probably reached its peak.
Then comes the olfactory stage.
The initial bouquet, or nose (before the wine has been swirled) is habitually distinguished from the second (after the glass has undergone several circular rotating movements holding it in your fist). Take great care to quantify and qualify your aromatic perceptions. This will enable you to describe the intensity of the aromas, their complexity or their simplicity, their strength, their finesse, their delicacy or their roughness, and to describe the great families of aroma to be found (fruity, floral, etc.), always making sure you are communicating and passing on information, rather than producing pure poetry and striving for descriptions which may be very accurate but are incomprehensible to most people. It must be possible for a tasting commentary to be read and understood by other people, so clarity and simplicity must always take priority when making comments.
Finally, and at this stage only, you put the wine in your mouth.
Now you will evaluate its texture, its richness, its concentration, whether it is full-bodied or thin, and linger on its length and the persistence of its aroma. But you will also appreciate the quality and intensity of the aromas perceived by retro-olfaction. At this point, the professional taster will spit the wine out, while the simple amateur will tend to swallow it … but swallowing it will not tell you any more about the wine, because sensorial perception stops at the uvula at the back of the throat.
After tasting, you should then summarise the different stages so that you can give a final judgement on the wine: Yes, or no? Did I like this wine? Am I prepared to buy it? Then you can discuss the wine according to the estate it comes from, its vintage, the wine production methods of the estate, whether it is good value for money, whether it will age well, or more simply what foods it will combine with best. If this ceremony seems over-formal and perhaps impenetrable to a tasting novice, don't forget that, with habit, linking up these phases becomes automatic, and a tasting with commentary will only take a few minutes for a practiced taster.
Now – over to you!