There is, however, method in the madness, which this guide will help explain. As a former barman and wine waiter, I regularly observed groups sharing a bottle, making notes and debating. There was always, however, some poor, confused looking, individuals who I would do my best to help out.
Many of us know little about wine and, at some point in our lives, we are all caught out by somebody asking for our opinion of one. By following the five steps of wine tasting, however, you can convince everyone you know what you’re doing, sort of.
You may notice everyone else holding their glasses up and stroking their chins, the more astute of them will be looking for clues for its age and grape variety. If you want to get involved, hold your glass towards the light, how well can you see through it? Does it appear cloudy? If you want to be the first to impress, then opaque, is a handy word to use.
Holding your glass against a white tablecloth helps you judge the colour. This should give you a good idea of the age as, as a general rule, darker wines are older. As they age;
- White wines turn from clear to brown.
- Rosés turn from pink to orange.
- Reds turn from purple to brown.
Stick your nose deep in the glass and take a big sniff. As you may remember from school, most of the flavours you taste are actually smells, so this is a great way to take in the flavours the wine has to offer. Do you recognise any smells? Floral and spicy wines are relatively easy to recognise so, if you notice either of these, they are great words to use. If you’re not too sure just agree with everyone else and move on.
If you have not had much input so far, now is your chance to shine. Swirl your glass gently to let it mix with the air, breaking up tannins and releasing more aromas. This will also let you know more about the wines ‘body’.
Notice how the wine sinks down the edge of the glass. Does it flow evenly? Or does it bunch together like raindrops falling down a window? These are called legs. Thick, well defined, legs are a sign of a full-bodied wine, whereas barely noticeable legs indicate that it is a light wine. Being the first to state whether it is light, medium or full will get a nod of approval from everyone else.
And now the moment you’ve been waiting for, take a sip of your wine and roll it around your mouth. This is where the more knowledgeable in your group will start reciting a whole world of flavours, but these tend to be based on personal interpretations.
It is unlikely that you will be able to guess the grape variety, but have a look out for certain flavours. Again, spicy and floral are great words to use, but also look out for fruity, buttery and smoky flavours. What sensation so you feel after you swallow? If there is a dry, stingy feeling on the roof of your mouth, this means that the wine has high levels of tannin.
Don’t be put off if everyone spits their wine back into a bucket, whether you choose to do this or swallow is entirely up to you, and nobody will judge you either way.
Now take the time to enjoy and really get to know your wine. If people start making notes about flavour, aftertaste and food pairings, feel free to join in. Again these comments tend to be based on personal interpretations, so there are no right or wrong answers. Get involved with the debate, safe in the knowledge that, by following this guide, you have avoided looking daft.