Guest Post: Melanie Reeve, Wine Alive

While it’s true to say that no one needs my help drinking wine, let’s talk about how to really taste it. The ideal tasting measure means you have plenty of space in the glass to swirl the wine around, so why not pour a sample and follow along?

We can break it down into three steps.

Step 1: Sight

Firstly – sight. Hold your wine glass by the stem or the base, so that you can see the wine and avoid transferring aromas from your hand to the bowl. Handling the bowl can also cause a white wine to warm up. Take a look at the wine – it is usual for it to appear bright and clear.

The colour of wine doesn’t fall neatly into two categories “white” and “red”. White wine in youth can range from virtually colourless to lemon, straw or gold. A young red wine tends to have either a ruby or purple hue. In time, a wine’s colour will progress to tawny brown, gradually deepening in colour in the case of a white wine, and progressively losing colour in the case of a red.

While still observing the wine, swirl it round the glass (it can be easier to do this on a flat surface) and watch the trails of wine falling down inside the glass. These are the “legs” of the wine which are an indicator of alcohol content; the more “legs”, the higher the alcohol. If your legs are fast, this denotes a dry wine, whereas slower legs indicate a sweeter wine owing to the higher sugar content (think of the slow passage of honey or treacle in a jar).


How to taste wine


Step 2: Smell

Our second stage is smell. In order to assess this, swirl the wine again to release the aromas. What would a faulty wine smell like? It depends on the fault. Vinegar off-notes mean that either the wine has been open too long or air has affected the wine via a faulty seal. Corked wine can smell flat and musty – the result of a fungus affecting the cork bark, with a new compound called TCA formed by subsequent treatment – thus giving the wine a pronounced taint.

The aromas of wine can be likened to things with which we are familiar, such as fruit, flowers, vegetables or spices, among others. For example, white wine can have citrus aromas, whereas red wine can remind us of red and black fruits. Spend a few moments swirling and nosing the wine with reference to the aroma groups in bold.

When you are choosing a wine to buy for the first time, it’s usual to be guided by a tasting note, maybe in the form of a shelf note, or on the back label of the bottle. We might be drawn to a wine described as tasting of “peach and butterscotch” or “barbequed blackcurrants and cigarbox”, depending on your taste. Are these just fanciful descriptors? Wine goes through many chemical changes in its journey from grape to glass and aromas develop as a result of this. Perhaps surprisingly, “grapey” aromas are rare considering the raw material of the wine!


Step 3: Taste

Thirdly – taste. When you’ve got an idea of the wine’s aromas, take a sip to get an initial impression. It is actually our sense of smell that deciphers flavour, more properly aroma, so in order to taste the wine fully we can’t rely on our taste buds alone and need to try a slightly different approach.

Take another sip, tilt your head forward, and draw air into your mouth, moving the wine around your mouth as you do so.  You’ll notice that the flavours seem more intense as our sense of smell is now fully engaged.

Think about your impressions of the wine: how does it link to what you found when you nosed the wine? What fruit flavours can you taste? Does the wine have any spice notes?

Other things to notice are:
– How light or heavy does the wine feel in your mouth (body)?
– How much does it make your mouth water (acidity)?
– How long do the flavours persist (length)?

Following these steps will help you get the most out of wines you try.


Melanie Reeve is a freelance wine tutor and wine writer – you can find her under Wine Alive on Facebook and Twitter


How to taste wine