Wine 101: How to taste wine like a pro

Between tasting notes that read like strange poetry, changing trends in techniques and obscure grape varietals, the world of wine can feel like a perplexing and impenetrable place. Nowhere is this more apparent than when you visit a winery and need to decode the seemingly sacred rituals around wine tasting.

Our aim at Blackhearts is to make good wine accessible, so here’s our beginner’s guide on how to taste wine without feeling like you’ve failed as a grown-up.

The order

As a rule, wine should be tasted from lightest to heaviest if you’re trying a few bottles, as heavy wine can overwhelm your palate. Start with sparkling wine, move onto lighter whites (Riesling, Pinot Grigio), then try heavier whites (like Chardonnay). Rose goes in the middle, followed by lighter reds (like Pinot Noir) before heavier reds (Shiraz or Cabernet), finishing up with any sweet fortified wines. Have water on hand to sip between tastes, and remember that wine rules are made to be broken. In fact, we’ll often taste wine the French way, with reds before whites. A sparkling or fresh white is a great way to reset the palate after some tannic reds – as is bread.

The process

Wine tasting is about using three key senses: sight, smell and taste. Pour out under an inch of the wine, pick the glass up by the stem (holding the bowl can warm the liquid) and take a moment to look at its colour. A young red is typically brighter, whereas white wines tend to look more ‘golden’ as they age. Keep the glass on a flat surface and give it a generous swirl for around 15 seconds. This introduces the wine to oxygen, coating the sides of the glass and releasing delicious wine aromas for the next step. Now, lift the glass to your nose and give it a good smell. Get your nose right in there. No shame. So much of our taste is dictating by smell, so this is a vital step. Try and work out any aromas you recognise, even if they’re seemingly weird non-wine things like cut grass, mushrooms, or popcorn. Once you’ve done this, lift the glass to your mouth and take a small sip, letting the wine spread across your tongue, noticing its affects on your tastebuds. Your tongue is like a flavour signpost: the tip detects sweetness, the inner sides detect acidity, and the outer sides detect saltiness. Feel where these characteristics hit your tongue, and decide if you like the balance.

To spit or not to spit?

It’s an ‘either/or’ situation. While professional wine tasters will generally make use of the buckets provided to spit out their wine, one of the joys of being a regular person is that you don’t have to do this. That said, regardless of if you spit or not, but be sure to take a moment to observe the wine’s finish (or aftertaste) on your tongue – it’s like an encore for your palate.

Read more:

Wine Jargon: decoding six common wine terms
How long wine lasts once you’ve opened it: a rough guide
Wine 101: what’s the go with natural wines?