Wine is known as the nectar of the gods and the right wine can certainly taste heavenly. Wine tasting is a great way to learn more about the subject and most importantly, to help you decide what type of wine you prefer. There’s a certain mystique around wine tasting and the vocabulary used can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated. That’s why we have teamed up with Riedel, the luxury wine glass company, to bring you a quick and easy guide to wine tasting at home.
1 – Wine Tasting At Home Essentials
To recreate a wine tasting at home, you’ll first need a selection of wine. Whether it’s bottles that you’ve been meaning to drink or wine that you’ve purchased specially for the occasion, it’s a good idea to choose a theme such as Chardonnay wine from around the world or bottles dating from a particular vintage. Consider getting a group of friends together who each bring their favourite bottle. Grape varietal specific wine glasses will help you to get the most out of the experience. If you’re not intending on finishing each wine, then a jug or bowl to pour the remnants into will come in useful. Give each participant a pen and paper to record their impressions of each wine, and provide everyone with plenty of water and water biscuits as these help to cleanse the palate. It could also be fun to do a blind tasting. For this, someone who isn’t taking part in the tasting will need to cover each label with a tea towel.
2 – Why Wine Glass Shape Matters
The shape of a wine glass really impacts how the wine tastes and serving the same wine in different shaped glasses will give completely different tasting results. For example, champagne actually lends itself very well to a tulip shaped wine glass rather than a flute, as such a narrow vessel doesn’t allow the wine to oxygenate or the aromas to open up. The coupe or saucer shape that you often see at parties is similarly not ideal as the bubbles are likely to dissipate quickly (along with all the wonderful scents!). However that shape is a good option for cocktails such as Martinis. The shape of a wine glass impacts on a wine’s aroma, the texture or feel in the mouth, the flavour and finish or aftertaste, because of the way it guides the liquid onto your palate. These days you can find grape varietal-specific versions to get maximum enjoyment from your wine. Grape varietal-specific means that the bowl shape has been designed to enhance the taste of a wine made from a specific grape – for example, a special shape for Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
Surprisingly, stemless wine tumblers work well for many wines as essentially they provide the same drinking experience with the same flow dynamics and wine delivery as a typical wine glass with a stem. What they do provide is a compact solution, as they are easy to stack and store if you’re limited on space at home. They’re also great for parties, where stemmed glasses might get knocked over, as well as for picnics and generally have the advantage of being dishwasher friendly. These days you can find specific grape varietal versions to get maximum enjoyment from your wine.
3 – Wine Serving Conditions
Contrary to popular belief, white wine should not be too cold as that could mask faults in the wine and will make it harder to distinguish the aromas. A good general rule is a serving temperature of 10-15° for white wine, with the lower temperature being reserved for lighter wines and the higher temperatures for more full-bodied, or oaked wines. If necessary, an ice bucket or wine cooler jacket will cool down wine quickly. As for reds, the fuller wines should be served between 16-19° whereas medium reds are generally best served under 16°.
For red wines of a certain vintage, a good decanter will prove invaluable. Many modern day decanters look like works of art, but most importantly their function is to allow the wine to aerate properly so that when you come to drink it you’ll notice a fuller flavour. You can even try a little experiment at home, by pouring one glass of wine into a decanter, leaving it for at least 30 minutes and comparing the taste of the wine with a glass from the same bottle that hasn’t been decanted.
4 – Appearance of Wine
The visual appearance of wine is an extremely important factor in wine tasting. Pour wine into your glass, but don’t overfill or it will be much harder to swirl around. The maximum serving recommended per glass is generally between 3 to 5 oz or 100 to 125 ml for a tasting. Take a sheet of white paper and tilt your wine glass in order to see the colour of the wine reflected on the paper. How would you describe the wine in question? Is it a ruby red or more of a russet shade? For white wine, is it a grassy green or a deep yellow? Does it look clear or hazy and is there any sediment floating in it? Now swirl the wine gently around your glass. Does it leave any traces on the side? Known as “legs”, some believe that these ripple effects indicate alcohol content or that that the wine is full-bodied and will have a more concentrated taste.
5 – Nose
Have you ever noticed how wine and food is much less enjoyable with a bad cold? That’s because smell is perhaps the most important of all our senses for wine tasting. Our nose has around 400 smell detectors and some scientists believe that smell accounts for more than 80% of taste. For our wine tasting, we suggest first picking up the glass and smelling it without swirling. Does it smell light or intense? Then swirl the wine and smell it as soon as it has settled. Is there a difference in aromas and quality? You could also try a technique called active inhalation where you use your mouth and nose to smell the wine. Simply tip your glass forward by around 40° whilst leaning your head forward. Open your mouth a bit and breathe gently in and out. The first thing that many people look for when smelling a wine is faults. Has the wine oxidized or is it corked? What fruit aromas are you picking up? Common fruit qualities for white wines are gooseberry, peach, pear, apple and lychee. For red wines, you might notice a hint of blackberry, raspberry or plum. In fact, the list of aromas associated with wine is almost endless, ranging from buttery to liquorice, biscuit and even pencil shavings!
6 – Tasting
Now you’re ready for the fun part, the tasting itself! Take a good sip and aim to swirl the wine inside the whole of your mouth by moving your tongue around so that it coats all your taste buds. What are your first impressions? There’s a lot of fancy terminology linked to wine but don’t be intimidated by that. Try to decide whether the wine tastes young or old and what flavours are present in the mouth. Does the wine appear to have been aged in oak barrels? A woody, full-bodied taste is a possible indication of this. Would you say that it’s a young, fresh wine or a vintage with earthy aromas?
7 – Wine Characteristics
The main wine characteristics are fruit, body, sweetness, tannin and acidity. Whilst some people prefer rich and smooth wines, some acidity is generally a good indicator of quality. That’s because the right balance of acidity gives wine longevity in the mouth. Tannin is the bitterness in a wine that originates from phenolic compounds in the seeds and skin. Whilst too much tannin can lead to a dry sensation in the mouth, a balance adds structure and helps a wine to last. If your taste buds tingle when sampling a wine, this can be an indicator of sweetness. A full bodied wine tends to be one with a higher alcohol level or ABV. You can count how long a wine remains on your taste buds after swallowing to get an idea of how full bodied it is.
8 – Food and Wine Pairing
Pairing wine with food is another great way to get involved in tasting. There are certain wine rules that are made to be broken like always pairing red wine with cheese. In fact, an aromatic white wine such as a Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc works well with goats cheese. Try to match the boldness of the wine with the vibrancy of the meal – for example, a flavourful Shiraz will pair nicely with a curry. If you’re serving up a fruity dish, then opt for a fruity wine such as Viognier or Riesling.
We hope you’ve found our wine tasting guide helpful and that you’re keen to try new wines and different ways of drinking them. Have you ever tried a wine tasting at home?
In association with RIEDEL, the wine glass company