You watch people who know wine taste wine and they look kind of funny. They spend a lot of time looking and it and smelling it. If you ask them, “How is it?” they’ll tell you, “Hold on. I’m not there yet.”
“Not there yet? What’s the point of drinking wine if you’re not drinking it?”
Well, if you’re just chugging the wine, and there’s nothing wrong with that, you’re missing out. You’re not getting all the wine has to offer you.
Let’s go over how you could be tasting your wine and explore why you might want to go about it another way.
I’ve been reading Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. I’m using what he recommends as an outline for describing how to REALLY taste wine. It’s really elaborate. I’ve only don’t it this extensively twice, but it was a good learning experience that showed me how to explore what I’m tasting better.
The section where he covers this is called, “The 60-Second Wine Expert,” but it takes a little longer than that. Go through his process step-by-step. You’ll learn a few things.
Zarly divides the exercise into five steps. Here we go.
Step 1 – Look at the color of the wine
Looking at wine tells you a lot about it. It gives you a chance to visually appreciate it before you engage your smell and taste. Remember to always use a clear glass. Avoid etched glass, smoky glass or glasses with odd shapes that keep you from seeing through the wine when you hold it up to light.
When looking at white wine, where is it on the color spectrum? Is it clear like water or is it yellow or a golden color?
If you pour red wine, explore the color. Is it orange, brown, red, violet? What color is it? I really like a wine that is a deep purple. It could be wine that smells and taste awful, but that color is so pleasant to me.
As you’re looking into the glass, how clear it? Can you see through it? Is it cloudy? (It shouldn’t be.)
As you swirl it around the glass, does it cling to the sides? Does it have legs or tears dripping down the sides of the glass? Is it watery or is it more like skim milk or even thicker like whole milk? Would you describe it as syrupy?
These all reveal things about the wine.
Step 2 – Smell the wine three times
You’d be surprised the difference between the smell of the wine and the taste. I’ve had wines that smell really fruity like the smell of ripe cherry or cranberry. Then you taste them and what really comes through is vanilla, chocolate or oak. Zarly’s book recommends taking three deep breaths. Focus. In white wines, lemon, citrus and even pineapple can be easy to detected. In red wines, cherry, blueberries, plum and vanilla are ones I can pick up easily.
Sometimes you’ll run into something you don’t typically expect or are harder to pin down. You may find something like fig, peach, apricots or nuts. The point is to spend some time on this so you aren’t just rushing to taste it.
Do keep in mind that our taste buds are very limited. If you were to taste wine with your nose pitched, you would lose a lot. So this step of smelling the wine is really important so you can analyze what you smell versus what you taste.
Step 3 – Put the wine in your mouth and leave it there for three to five seconds
The first taste of a glass of wine shocks your system. There’s a lot in there so unless you’ve already been tasting other wines like you might at a wine tasting, there’s going to be a jolt. I like to swoosh the wine around my mouth like I would mouthwash. I bathe my entire mouth overdoing it on purpose. This gives me a chance to appreciate the texture and viscosity (i.e., is it thick or thin) and to taste with my entire mouth.
I was at a tasting recently and the guy running it asked us to swoosh this one wine around in our mouth. Then he said to stop and take a quick breath before swallowing. This one wine had a nice acidic flavor that you could best appreciate by doing this.
There’s so much to explore here. Let’s keep going.
Step 4 – Swallow it
It’s interesting to see professional tasters spitting wine out into a spittoon. I think to myself, “What a waste?” But if you’re tasting different wines for hours, you won’t last very long even if you are only swallowing a little bit each time. If you don’t swallow, you still get a very similar experience taste-wise than if you don’t. That goes to show you how unimportant swallowing is.
Now when you do swallow it, focus on what you notice. Some wines are very short meaning they disappear really fast after you swallow. Some wines linger. I have timed some that are still around 30 and even 60 seconds after you swallow.
As you swallow, notice if it is still acidic, dry, bold, fruity… What is it the wine leaves behind and for how long?
Step 5 – Wait and concentrate on the wine for 60 seconds before discussing it
Just when you think it’s over, Zraly’s in his book recommends you start your wine evaluation now. You’ve gone through all this as a warm up exercise. This prepares your senses so you get the most of the wine. This delay is so you do not form a harsh judgement. If it’s a wine you really like, this enables you to explore what you like about it and why.
Now we get ready to really taste it. When you take this next sip, you go for the 60 second. Swirl it around your mouth and swallow.
0 to 15 seconds
Focus on the sweetness in the wine. If the wine is sweet, you’ll experience it most now. If there is no sweetness, the acidity will be strongest in the first 15 seconds. Notice how well the sweetness and the acidity are balanced relative to each other.
15 to 30 seconds
After the sweetness and the acidity, evaluate the fruit sensation. As the sweetness and acidity fall away, what fruitiness is left. Evaluate the three components together. Also, explore if the wine is light, medium or full-bodied?
30 to 45 seconds
Formulate your opinion of the wine now. Not all wines are going to need the full 60 seconds. Lighter-style wines may not need this much time.
How does the fruit, acidity and sweetness compare against each other now? Is that something you like or not? Is there a balance or does one outweigh the others in a big way? Is that something you like or not?
This is a long exercise, but when you open up your next wine bottle, take some time to really explore it. Don’t just open, pour, chug and eat. See what you can discover about your every day house wine. See what you can discover about something a little more special. Grab something really nice and do some exploring there.
I highly recommend getting away from rushing through the experience and be present. Be there fully and make your wine drinking experience the very best it can be.