How To Taste Wine Like a Pro

Image of wine being poured into glass at table set for a wine tasting.

To taste wine like a pro, do what the professionals do. Use the Five S’s tasting method. Professionals use this technique in order to identify the different characteristics of wine and to ultimately evaluate it. You can learn more about wine by following these same wine tasting steps. And with practice, you’ll be able to identify the type of wine you are drinking without even looking at the bottle.

The Five S’s Method for Tasting Wine

#1 See

Technique:

Illustration of first step of tasting wine. The Wine glass is tilted to a 45-degree angle to evaluate the color of the wine.

Hold your glass over a white paper or white napkin at a 45-degree angle. This helps you to see the color or hue of the wine.

What to look for: 

Color: The color ranges for white wine are straw, yellow, and gold. The color ranges for red wine are purple, ruby, and garnet.

Intensity & Opaqueness: The color intensity ranges from pale, medium, and deep. Wine also has a range from translucent to opaque.

What this tells you: 

White wine that has a deep golden color is likely aged in oak. It can also indicate an older wine. For red wines, the colors combined with the level of opaqueness can tell you how light-bodied or full-bodied the wine is. It can also give you hints to the type of wine it is (ie. Pinot Noir is pale ruby and more translucent while Syrah is deep garnet and opaque.)

#2 Swirl

Technique:

Illustration of third step for tasting wine which is to swirl wine in a wine glass.

Swirl the wine in your glass either by using a circular motion holding the glass in the air or by keeping the glass on the table and moving it in a circular motion. On the table is a much safer bet for me that way the wine won’t go flying out of the glass.

What this does:

This adds more oxygen to the wine and releases more of the flavors and aromas. I like to swirl before sniffing and before sipping.

#3 Sniff

Technique:

Illustration of second step of tasting wine which is to smell the aromas of wine in a wine glass.

Hold your glass below your nose at chest level and see if you can smell any aromas, then put it at your chin, then put your nose in the glass. Now Swirl the wine and put your nose in the glass to smell again.

What to look for:

Aromatic Intensity: Identify the aromatic intensity of the wine. If you could smell the wine at chest level, then it is very aromatic.

Wine Faults: Check for any faults like smells of wet cardboard or vinegar.

Identify Aromas: Identify the aromas like fruit, floral, herbal, and spice notes.

What this tells you: 

Aromatic intensity: This tells you if it’s produced with an aromatic grape. It basically points you to the type of grape used in the wine. Riesling is known to be an aromatic grape and you should expect to be able to smell the wine from chest level.

Wine Fault: If you smell wet cardboard or vinegar that means the wine is not fresh and has a fault. This is when you tell the waiter and they will bring a fresh bottle. This happens with a very small percentage of wines.

Aromas: The aromas will tell the story of the wine like the type of grape, cool or warm climate, and production style. Cool-climate white wines will have citric, herbal notes while warm-climate white wine will have tropical or stone fruit notes. Cool-climate red wines will have red berry notes while warm-climate will have blackberry notes. Wine aged in oak barrels will have notes of vanilla, toast or clove.

#4 Sip

Technique:

Illustration of fourth step for tasting wine which is to sip wine from a wine glass.

With this first sip let the wine coat your mouth, this helps your taste buds will pick up more of the flavors.

What to look for:

Identify the levels of sweetness, acidity, tannin, alcohol, and body. Also, identify the flavors like fruit, floral and herbal notes similar to the sniffing step.

What this tells you:

Sweetness: Levels range from Dry, Medium or Off-Dry (aka a little bit of sweetness), and Sweet. The majority of wines are dry.

Acidity: This is a mouth-puckering sensation. This gives the wine a refreshing characteristic. While too much acidity can be harsh, too little leaves the wine a bit flat or flabby.

Tannin: This can have a bitter taste and a dry mouthfeel.

Alcohol: Levels are identified by the sensation of heat in your throat after wine is swallowed.

Body: This is the overall feel of the wine in your mouth. This can be a range from light-bodied to medium-bodied to full-bodied. Think about the weight of water versus 2% milk versus whole milk.

Flavors: Identify fruit, floral, herbal, and spice notes. Similar to the sniffing step, these flavors will identify the type of grape, cool or warm climate, and production style.

White Wine will have a range of fruit flavors like citric fruit (lemon, green apple) and herbal notes (asparagus, grass) which point to cool-climate wines like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and some Chardonnay. Wine with tropical fruit (pineapple) and stone fruit (peach) notes point to warm-climate wines like some Chardonnay which is then likely aged in oak barrels and will have vanilla and toast notes.

Red wine will have red fruit notes (raspberry and strawberry) pointing to cool-climate, light-bodied wines like Pinot Noir. Red wine with black fruit (blackberry, black cherry) point to warm-climate, full-bodied wines like Cab and Syrah.

#5 Savor

Technique:

Time to swallow the wine. This stage evaluates the finish of the wine.

What to look for:

Pay attention to how long you continue to taste the wine and how the flavors change. This is also when you determine the balance of the wine’s fruit, acidity, and tannin.

What this tells you:

The quality of wine is determined by the finish. A high-quality wine will have flavors that linger longer, more complex flavors, and a nice balance of fruit, acidity, and tannin.

Taste Wine Like a Pro Wrap Up

For me, I have a difficult time really identifying aromas in wine unless it’s highly aromatic. I can identify flavors better than aromas. The good news is we can train our senses by practicing. Buying different types of fruit to smell and taste can train our noses and taste buds to identify these characteristics in wine.

To taste wine like the pros do, just follow the Five S’s tasting method. When you See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor each wine, you will develop your technique and senses overtime.

Find out more about the aroma and flavor characteristics of the 7 Noble Grapes.



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