How to taste wine

Learning how to enjoy wine begins not with drinking lots of it, but rather by paying attention. Wine experts achieve their status like anyone who has an interest in developing a hobby – by making time to get serious with the subject matter.
The following notes ywill not turn you into a pro overnight, but they will set you on a path to learning why and how one wine differs from the next.

Most often, preparation for tasting wine extends only to cleaning some wine glasses and finding the corkscrew. But, if you are planning a voyage of wine discovery, here are some things to consider:

  1. Try to avoid strong perfume or other scent when tasting wine.
  2. Spend some time in the kitchen, opening and smelling spices. It may help with associations later.
  3. Have paper and pen available to make notes, and use your own descriptions and associations. Try to write before others speak to avoid being influenced. A useful guide for beginners is the flavour and aroma “wheel”. This is essentially a diagram that provides an idea of wines’ sensory spectrum. There are many available online, along with examples of tasting notes.
  4. Select the wine(s), but avoid taking in too much detail from the label(s). Essentially, you want to start with the younger wines; and, keeping distinctly different styles apart, such as whites from reds, sweet wines from natural wines, etc.

2.At the table
If you are pouring, you only want wine in the bottom quarter of the glass. Do not overfill. Keep in mind that the shape of the glass affects the impact of the wine. Some glasses are better for experiencing a wine than others.

Start with the colour of the wine. It is best assessed over a white background with daylight or similar lighting. Start writing down your description and be specific. Ask yourself: if it is yellow, what kind of yellow is it? Does it resemble gold or dry grass? Is the red a crimson or rather more purple?

Give the glass a swirl and observe its movement. Wines with higher sugars for example, tend to leave long viscous trails as it recedes.

Now, get your nose as close to the wine in the glass as you can and inhale deeply. Try and identify the aromas, or what is sometimes called the bouquet. Again, you are attempting to isolate aromas that connect with your own memory and experience. This not only allows you to appreciate the wine in your glass, but also to recall it from your notes or memory. Try to separate the aromas: which jump out first? And which ones linger in the background?

Take a sip and hold the liquid in your mouth. Roll it around – the aim here is to coat your mouth and tongue with the wine. You may have seen professional tasters draw in some air with the wine; this technique, similar to slurping up soup, can help to make the flavours more pronounced. With the wine in your mouth, you are not only again looking for discernible characteristics in the flavour, but also texture, i.e. how the wine feels in the mouth. Tannin in the wine, for example, shows as a raspy sensation rather than a flavour.
Note how the wine changes in your mouth over time, from the beginning to the middle, or mid-palate, and end – the finish.

6.Reflect, read and share
Recalling the wine and its sensations is just as pleasurable as the preceding steps. Take time to reflect on the various stages and what really stood out. If you have company, discuss the wine – other people’s experiences can be insightful and educational. Also, now you can go back to the wine label, to see what the winery has to say.

Remember, the aim is to enjoy and learn about wine. It is a diverse and interesting field. There are no rules. Over time, you will be able to identify wine styles, and what defines a tainted wine. You will be able to tell if a wine is older or younger, without looking at the vintage on the bottle; which region or country it comes from; whether it is a blend or single variety wine, and which cultivars were used; whether the wine was matured in a barrel or stainless-steel tank; and, much more.
You will soon realise that wines are made with wine-drinkers and occasions in mind. Some are produced for simply enjoying around a braai. Others, for fine dining. Deciding which is which is really up to you.