Wine tasting has the potential to be a delightful adventure or a dreadful encounter. Oftentimes we are guilty of rushing into the event, thereby depriving our senses of the creative flavor profiles and intense combinations of a well-made wine.

The proper way to taste wine requires effort and patience. It is important to slow down in order to truly appreciate the experience. Learn to develop your palate and treasure the process by engaging in the following practices the next time you are ready to sample a new wine:

Control the environment

Your surroundings can influence your perception of the wine you are tasting. Take a few minutes to examine the temperature, glass condition, and aromatic presences in the immediate environment. While you may not be able to change these conditions, being aware of them will help to eliminate any prejudices when you begin your assessment.

Inspect the appearance

The way a wine appears in a glass can tell you a lot about the wine itself. Holding the glass at different angles while slowly swirling the contents allows for an unobstructed view. Here’s what you are looking for:

Color Range – Notice the full spectrum of color within the glass to determine both the density and saturation of the wine.

Clarity – Check to see if the wine is cloudy or clear to gauge filtration and fermentation.

Content – Swirl the wine and watch for small streams (called “legs”) to appear on the side of the glass. Weak legs typically mean less alcohol content, while strong legs tend to indicate the opposite.

Evaluate the aroma

The fragrance of a wine can also be a great indicator of the way it will taste. The best way to detect subtle flavor hints is by holding the wine steady and taking a few brief sniffs. Then step away from the glass and process the information. Here’s what you’re smelling for:

Flaws – Concentrate on scents that are unpleasant. Mustiness, sulfur, and vinegar are all clues that the wine could be flawed.

Fruits & Flowers – Attempt to define any floral or fruity scents in the wine. These are often indicators of primary flavor profiles but bear in mind that there are likely too many to identify.

Other aromas – Pay special attention to aromas that do not fall into the first two fields. These could be scents specific to the type of wine you are sampling, or the wine barrel itself.

Assess the taste

The final, and by far the most enjoyable, aspect of wine tasting is the actual tasting. A sensitive palate is ideal, but takes time to develop. When tasting wine, be sure to evaluate the following:

Balance –  There should be a relatively even mix of sweet and sour flavors. Salt should be rare.

Harmony –  The more harmonious the ingredients, the more difficult their identification. You should not be able to taste each individual flavor on its own.

Complexity – Changes in flavor profile while tasting and how long you experience the aftertaste are both signs of a wine’s complexity.  

Completeness

If a wine performs favorably in each of the above categories, it is considered to be a complete wine. As such, this should be the last category you evaluate. Learning to utilize proper wine tasting tactics can take time, but with lots of practice you will find that it can by a highly rewarding endeavor.