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How to Taste Wine and assess its Quality

Wine tasting is the sensory examination and evaluation of wines. Initially you have to decide why you are assessing it, for what eventual purpose. Is it for your own usage, do you want to have a written record of what that wine was like for comparison purposes or is it to provide a written record for an article or for friends or even for a wine group? Do you work in the Wine World and do you need a comparible system....and does that system have to tie in with other peoples systems.

Do you feel that you want to score the wine, if so are you going to use a system, ie 20 points maximium for appearance, 30 for aroma of the wine and 50 for the taste? Or do you want to know how you feel overall about each wine and put a point score ( out of 10 / 20 / 100....) against it. Is your system one that works when you try different styles, or on different days, or different moods, or in different circumstances? Lots of variables.
Once you have decided that - then you can produce a template, the method below is for deciphering the wine style, age, body, drinkability etc, how you record it is up to you  It may also help you to work out the wine grape variety in a blind tasting.


Firstly decide what glass you are going to use and then always use the same glass type, I use an Iso tasting glass pictured, it holds a reasonable volume for analysis purposes, it retains the aromas due to the shape of the glass, allows you to tilt and swirl the glass aiding assessment and importantly is readily available!

Secondly do not pour a lot in, about 2-4cm depth is more than enough, so allowing enough volume to produce vapour to allow you to inhale it and determine its aromatic properties, but not so much that it is difficult to tilt and swirl. It is better to always try and pour a similar depth of wine in so the depth of colour is directly comparible when examined from above.

To assess the wine visually - Hold the glass at an angle over a white surface and assess its colour, in addition I like to stand the glass flat and look through the deepest part of the liquor to determine the depth of colour, especially in red and rosé wines. If it is a white wine, is it pale or strong coloured, is it straw coloured, or lemon and maybe with a green tinge. In red wine is it red, purple garnet or salmon, does it have great depth of colour, some are so deep that they are impossible to see through to what is below. In rosé, is it garnet, salmon, pink, or pale red? See if you can see the difference between the majority of the wine and the rim – the pale outer edge, is it narrow or wide? A wide rim can suggest a younger wine or a lesser quality one.The older a wine gets, the narrower the rim. But remember these are not hard and fast rules, but are good guidelines to work from.

On swirling the glass does it coat the sides of the glass and form thick slow running legs or tears ( the name for the dribbles that run back down the glass) or is there nothing to be seen, if there are legs are they coloured or clear? If the wine has a cloudy appearance this should be noted, it may be a sign of a spoilt wine or simply a wine that has not been filtered before bottling ( and the wine not decantered to remove the sediment before pouring to drink). The wine may have a spritz or bubbles that rise to the surface, again this is more likely in a younger, recently bottled wine. If the wine is a Sparkling wine, the size of the bubbles and the speed at which they rise to the surface is relevant, generally sparkling wines made by the ‘Champagne method’ ( eg Cava from Spain or Crémant’s from France) have smaller, finer bubbles that last for longer, those made by the ‘Tank method’ ( eg some of the Prosecco from Italy, and Asti also from Italy) has bigger bubbles that rise fast and then are gone!


Thirdly you need to sniff the wine. To assess the wines aroma -  you need to smell the wine, approach the glass sniffing from about 2-4 inches distance and gradually get closer to the glass and see what aromas you pick up, then get your nose right into the glass use one side of the nose and then the other, a lot of people have one nostril that is more sensitive than the other, do you?  Try and see. What do the aromas remind you of, see the attached list to give you some hints in the first instant, it is a good starting point. Are the aromas quite simple ie  fresh fruits, so can be said to be fruit driven, or are there other smells in there that you are having problems pinpointing? Do you like what you smell, does it make you want to try the wine, or does it remind you of wines you have tried that you did not like? Write down the aromas and see if you pick up any more on a second sniff.
Flavours that are found in Wine can be split into simple categories as shown below, they can then be split into sub categories if needed.
Fruits      Citrus fruits ( orange, clementine, lemon, grapefruit...), Green fruits ( apple, pear, gooseberry....), Stone fruits ( peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, red/black cherry.....), Tropical fruit ( mango, pineapple, kiwi.....), Red Berry fruit ( redcurrant, raspberry, logan berry, strawberry.....), Black berry fruits ( blackberry, blackcurrant....), Dried fruits ( dates, prunes, apricot, raisins, cranberry....) etc.
Spices   Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, white/black pepper, licquorice etc.
Vegetal     Cabbage, green/red pepper, potatoe, herbal (mint, eucalyptus, lavender, fennel....), asparagus, grass, tomatoe etc.
Nuts     Hazelnuts, almonds, walnut, marzipan
Floral     Honeysuckle, rose, elderflower, acacia, geranium, violet, iris, chamomile etc.
Other     Leather , Farmyard, earthy, butter, cheese, rubber, tar, toast, cedar, smoke, mushroom, hay, tobacco, chocolate, coffee, game etc.


Fourth is the actual tasting of the wine – here I prefer to taste and then spit, if I am tasting a number of wines and swallow….. eventually my notes just say ‘Yummy’ and ‘Yuck’, some people can swallow and keep a clear head and palate, but not me I am sorry to say!
So if you are going to spit it may be worth practicing in private if you feel self conscious. Take about ½ a tablespoon of wine into your mouth and swirl it around your mouth, around your gums, tongue and back of your teeth….. let it lie on your tongue for about 30-45 seconds and then spit it out, assess the feel of the wine in your mouth, does it feel silky, thin or creamy? Some people like to hold the wine in their mouth and suck air into their mouth so allowing release of more aromas and help the tastes develop, this needs practice so as not to feel ‘silly’. Keeping the wine in the mouth also warms it up and releases more of the aromatic flavour compounds.

Does the wine burn your gums ( alcohol can do this, but it can also be due to high acidity for some people), does it make your mouth water and does the side of your tongue feel sensitive, this can be due to acidity in the wine….. and most wines are acidic, it is not obvious in some but once you recognise the signs….. you will be surprised, the sweet dessert wines are often very acidic which is balanced by the sweetness in the liquor and if they did not have this acidity they would taste sickly – and they don’t. Is the wine tannic ( tannins are the material that comes from the skins, pips and stems which makes your gums feel dry and gravelly), do these tannins feel soft and silky on your gums or are they dry and chalky? Once you have swallowed, breathe in and out through your mouth, this gives you another perspective on the flavours and aromas that come from the wine, and also assess the tastes in your mouth, how they change with time and how long they last for, is it a pleasant finish and with lots of complexity, or is is single dimensional or unpleasant…… These are all things you should be concentrating on as you taste.

Does the balance of the wine feel right, or are you left with a feeling that the wine has been manufactured not crafted, does the acidity feel sharp and as if it does not suit the fruit flavours, do the tannins feel too dry and is there a bitter taste to those tannins, all worth noting.


Complicated business this tasting lark!


After you have done all of this you should look back at your notes and assess what you have written, was the wine complex, was it ready to drink, did the finish surprise you with its length and was the wine balanced or did one area stand out as not being ‘quite right’. Did loads of flavours and aromas hit you and did you need to go back in for a few tries.

What you must not forget is to ENJOY the tasting !

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