Image: Heidi Butzine
When tasting wine, there are three senses we use to evaluate the wine. These are sight, smell, and taste. Obviously, the first sense we are using whether we pay close attention or not is sight. We can see what liquid is in the glass and admire its color, but for expert wine tasters, many will take this one step further and tilt the glass away from them holding it up to something white to evaluate the color and clarity.
Why do they do this? This can indicate whether the wine is youthful or has been aged by the way the color appears. Some white wines may gain more color as they age, changing from a clear to a golden hue, and finally at its darkest, a yellowish brownish color. Red wine does the opposite, losing color as it ages. A wine that starts out purple will eventually become ruby colored, and then fade to a reddish brown. Changes in the color of the wines vary depending on the color of the grapes. While some experts may think this is an important part of the experience, I believe that it is not as critical in smelling and tasting.
So don’t get too hung up on the colors and whether your red is more ruby than purple. Looks can be deceiving! Most of your time really should be spent on how the wine smells and tastes to decide if you like the wine.
Take a sniff first. Then, holding the glass by the stem, swirl the wine gently in a circle. This exposes the wine to the air, which releases its aroma and enhances the flavor. After you have swirled the wine, take several short sniffs. It is acceptable to put your nose all the way inside the glass. This is the step where you should be able to detect all the nuances that are described for a wine, like earth and leather, fruits, and pepper. The smell of the wine is called its bouquet or nose.
Smelling is the most important step, but tasting is probably the most satisfying. The taste of a wine may contain similar elements to the smell, but you will also notice different things coming out in the flavors. Usually some elements of the smell are not present in the flavor, because your nose is much more sensitive to different flavors than your tongue.
While you have the wine in your mouth, roll it around so that all of your taste buds get a chance at it. Open your mouth slightly and take in some air as well. There are several aspects of the wine you should assess at this point. What kind of weight or body the wine has, how much acidity is present, how much tannin, and how dry. As you swallow the wine, think about its aftertaste or finish. Does it last a long time? Do the flavors change or stay the same? Is it pleasant and balanced or does it fall out of proportion?
So get out there and practice tasting, smelling and describing the wines you like. When you are ready, you may even try a few wines with a blindfold on and see how much color really becomes secondary to your wine tasting experience.