How to Taste Wine: Tasting Tips for Beginners
Learning how to taste wine, even just the basics that can be considered wine 101, might feel intimidating. Sure, you know the difference between a red and a white wine, but regions, vintages, and varietals are a different story. One way to expand your knowledge is through our wine guide, but another (more fun) way is with a wine tasting. The experience may sound intimidating, but we promise it won't be, particularly after you review our tips on how to taste wine.
1. BYO Crackers and Water
Every tasting room should have water and crackers readily available to serve as palate cleansers—that's wine 101. Just in case they don't, you should come prepared with oyster crackers and water, which can do wonders to refresh your taste buds. This is particularly important if you plan on trying multiple full-bodied reds in a row.
You can also use the crackers and water to reset your tongue while you're traveling from one winery to the next. A day of wine tastings means you'll be drinking a lot throughout the day, so stay hydrated.
2. Spit It Out
Spitting out a taste of wine isn't insulting to the staff. In fact, it's probably one of the smartest decisions that you can make, especially if you're visiting multiple wineries in a single day. Those wine samples add up quickly, and you must be able to trust both your taste buds and your cognitive functions. Staff members know this all too well, which is why they won't be grossed out if you make the sensible decision to pace yourself by regularly spitting.
3. Go from White Wines to Reds
In general, it's easiest on your taste buds to start with lighter wines and progress to heavier options. That's because crisp, acidic whites and rosés help cleanse the palate, while bold, tannic reds tend to make it more difficult to taste anything other than even bolder, more tannic reds.
Starting heavy and going lighter can cause the flavors of each subsequent wine to taste muted or washed out in comparison.
Sweetness is the ultimate palate-blaster though, so save any dessert wines with high levels of residual sugar until the very end.
To put these principles another way: starting heavy and going lighter can cause the flavors of each subsequent wine to taste muted or washed out in comparison. If you want to get the most out of your wine tasting experience, go from light whites to full-bodied whites to rosés to fruity reds to tannic reds to dessert wines whenever applicable.
4. Swirl Before You Sip
The human tongue can only taste four things—five, if you count umami, the brothy, savory taste most often associated with MSG. But the nose can detect subtleties far beyond salty, sour, bitter, and sweet. This is what allows us to experience a wide range of flavors whenever we drink a glass of wine.
Swirling the glass before you sip it oxygenates the wine, causing it to release more of its aromas.
To swirl like a pro, don't even take the glass off the table. Instead, gently grab the stem and move the entire glass in a circle. Keeping the glass flat minimizes the chance that any wine splashes out of the sides (and into your nostrils).
5. Don't Worry About Naming Every Flavor
Ripe cherries. Currants. Dried lavender. Graphite. Horse blanket. The flavors described in wine-tastingnotes run the gamut from the common to the inedible.
It's tempting to try and describe every single thing that you taste. Resist this temptation. Instead, think about the big picture. Does the wine feel heavy or light in your mouth? Does it have a one-note taste, or do the flavors change the longer you swish the wine between your teeth? Can you still taste those flavors even when the wine is gone?
6. Have Fun
A day of wine tasting is a marathon, not a sprint. Do your best to stay refreshed and hydrated throughout the day. Most importantly, remember that the day is supposed to be fun. Chat with people, learn some new facts about wine, and try something you've never tasted.
This article was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated.