Wine Tasting: The Complete Guide (Updated 2019)

Wine Tasting: The Complete Guide (Updated 2019)

Not many know how much goes into wine tasting. It’s not just a matter of tasting different brands and types of wines

The art of tasting wines does not only involve sipping, swirling and tasting wine.

You also need to know how to recognize wines by smell and looks. You require refined sensory abilities to do all this and to understand everything a great bottle of wine has to offer.

Why taste wine?

• While you need years of experience to properly taste and identify wine, a basic understanding helps you order the best wines in restaurants and bars.

• It’s also a social activity where a group of friends, official tasting clubs and wine merchants and shops meet up to taste and give their feedback about different wines.

• It’s when you attend events for tasting wines that you find new wines you enjoy, develop a wine vocabulary of your own and even develop a history of wines to compare with other wines down the line.

With wine tasting needing all your senses, this guide is just what you need to help you start out. It’s got everything you need to taste wine and become an expert at it.

The guide is divided into individual sections including the important components of wine tasting, the importance of a glass, how to swirl your wine and the ideal wine tasting conditions.

The guide is meant to make you enjoy yourself, and to help you master the art of tasting wines. It’s easily written so that anyone can use it-both amateurs who want to learn the art to critics looking for a recap.

1. Ideal Conditions To Taste Wine
2. Use the Proper Glass
3. You Also Need Some Stationery
4. Types of Wine Tasting
5. The Art of Swirling Wines
6. Looking at Wines
7. Nosing Your Wine
8. Finally- The Actual Tasting
9. Wine Profiling
10. Basic Wine questions
11. Final Thoughts


It doesn’t matter what the reason is to taste wine, what’s important is that the environment is comfortable and perfect for a wine tasting session. This means there should be: 

1.  Minimal distractions
It’s better to taste wine in the room with minimal distractions, which have a negative impact on your tasting experience. Noise is known to disturb your ability to identify particular aromas while too strong smells will interfere with your olfactory senses.

2. Good lighting
There should be adequate lighting in the room for you to correctly and accurately record visual observations.

3. Proper glass
Wine should not be served in just any glass, but a glass at the correct temperature. You may even have to condition the glass by perhaps rinsing it with wine, and not water if it’s musty.


Wine should not be tasted in just any glass. Instead, spend a little more and buy a decent glass. 

The most important point to remember is that the glass should be clear, devoid of any patterns like multi-colored grapes or don’t even have any frosting to easily study the wine.

The glass should also be big enough to swirl the wine around without spilling anything. It’s better if it has a stem which prevents the wine from warming up as you hold the glass.

You should ideally choose your glass depending on the wine you taste. A tall glass with a wide mouth and bowl is better for red wine. It helps bring out the wine’s flavors and smells as you swirl it in the glass. Narrower glasses with smaller mouths are better for white wines, where minimal air enters it.  

If you plan on tasting several bottles, start with a lighter wine, and work to the fuller-bodied ones. This doesn’t tire your palate out too early in the session. It’s better to decant the younger or newer red wines by opening and pouring it into a container before starting the tasting. Decanting helps separate the sediment at the base and aerates the wine to release its aroma and flavor.

Useful tip- Avoid wearing white to these events because there’s always the possibility of spills while swirling the glass.


It’s worth taking some stationary when you go to an event to taste wines.

• You need a few pens and a notebook to take down notes.

• While most wine tasting events provide checklists, it’s better to confirm before you go. You can easily buy them from wine shops or online if required. Checklists serve as a prompt as you note down your observations.

• If you really want to build up your vocabulary to become an expert, you may as well carry along some wine key term books and dictionaries which help you describe them. You can also use one of the many important key wine term resources available.



As each session is different, make sure you find out about the event’s protocol and be ready for it before you go.

• Some of them need you to only taste the wine, where you are provided with spittoons to spit the wine out after noting its flavor and characteristics. This doesn’t mean you just spit it out. It has to spit out accurately into the spittoon, through pursed lips. It’s better practicing this first if you are not so sure about how to do it. Remember that even if you don’t swallow, but spit it out, your throat, nose, and sinus absorbs its alcohol.

• The other type of sessions encourages swallowing the wine and then recording your findings. The glasses are here filled to a third of the way to make it easier for you to swirl and smell it.

• There are also blind events where you are blindfolded and drink from a covered glass of wine. This is rather tricky because you depend only on your nose and taste buds to identify the drink.

Whichever wine tasting event it may be, you need a clear and fresh palate to start. This helps you grasp, and enjoy the taste much better.

Don’t make the mistake of eating a huge salad or even smoke a cigarette before you start.

It is instead better if you eat some mild fruit, bread or crackers or drink some water in between drinks. It helps cleanse your palate to taste the next bottle better.



Though considered unimportant, the way you swirl your wine does impact your ability at tasting it. There’s even a proper way to swirl your drink.

You have to place the glass flat on a table, grab the stem bottom and then swirl vigorously.

The purpose of swirling is to increase its surface area and aerate it so that it releases maximum aromas.

However, do not swirl for more than a few seconds because it’s not a cocktail. It’s after swirling that you notice it’s viscosity or legs’, which are wine streaks flowing down the glass.

It’s the bigger wines containing more sugar and/or alcohol that produce more defined legs. However, they do not reveal anything about the drink’s taste or quality.

Useful tip- Though it needs some practice, it’s better to swirl the wine by rotating your wrist.

It is difficult because you have to move only your wrist and not your entire arm. But practice makes perfect!



The room’s lighting affects your wine tasting abilities which is why it’s better if the room has more of natural light with white backdrops like tablecloths or walls.

Always hold your glass against the white backdrop to accurately record the wine’s color and intensity.

Note down the color because most red, orange, brown and amber wines indicate age while purple ones indicate youth.

In the case of white wines, green indicates youth while brown and orange indicate age.

While some wines change color quicker than others, reds get lighter with age while whites, darker.

You also have to notice if the wine is clear and bright or dark and murky and note its opacity. Use scales while noting the different colors and opacity to help describe what you taste.




As the sense of smell is more powerful than the sense of taste, make sure you have neutral air while tasting.

This helps you concentrate only on the wine’s aroma. Get our nose down into the glass and inhale deeply to get a good whiff at it.  Think about the first smells you recognize and write them down, no matter how far out it is.

The common aromas are fruity, spicy, chemical, floral, pungent and woody. It’s okay to get confused at times, but using your instinct does help.

You can even remove your nose for a few seconds and smell it again to separate distinctive smells.

For example, if you had first smelled something fruity, you will be able to distinguish perhaps fruits like blackberries or bitter lemons.

It’s better to specifically assess and mention a wine instead of giving vague descriptions.

Wait for 20-30 seconds before taking another whiff because it’s how long your nose needs to reset and recover.

Useful tip- If you identify a bad smell with the wine, like of vinegar or damp wood, then it means something’s wrong with it.




It’s after you have a general idea of the wine that you are ready to taste it. There’s also a way to taste wine.

You have to smell it briefly before taking a small sip and swishing in the mouth until it coats every part of the tongue. It helps warm, and aerate the wine to release the flavors.

It’s even better if you manage to suck some air through your lips, for a few seconds, after swirling the wine. This adds more air to it to release its flavors better.

In case you are swallowing the wine, think how it tastes as it touches the different parts of your tongue. Your tongue has five main areas of sensitivity including bitter and sour taste, salt, sweet and tannin which is detected in the gums.

As the wine’s taste lingers long after swallowing it, try recording how long the aftertaste lasts. This is called the finish, which releases to the wine body.

Its main descriptions are the wine being light-bodied like water, medium-bodied like milk or full-bodied with a rich consistency like cream.




This is the part where you note the wine’s exact tastes by describing the exact flavor instead of generalities.

There are three main categories while describing the taste which is acidity, tannin, and sweetness. There’s also the alcohol content and body to consider.

• Acid is detected by the tongue sides and causes the mouth to water. It’s what makes the wine refreshing and vibrant and important for sweet wines because too low levels make the drink taste too sweet.

• Tannin exists in grape skin and has a bitter flavor, and is detected at the back of your tongue. It’s the tannin’s astringency that gives your mouth a dry feeling and is sensed largely on your gums.

• Alcohol content is the quantity of ethyl alcohol in the drink where those with lower alcohol content taste sweeter.

• The body describes the wine’s weight like if it’s light, heavy, soft, firm, sweet or dry.

Useful tip- It’s when the acid, tannin, and alcohol content are in good balance without anything dominating the other, then you have a good quality wine.

Always give some time before tasting the next bottle and write your impressions when they are fresh.

And if you are tasting strong wines, eat some bread, fruit or crackers with water to clear your palate.

Rate all wines you enjoy highly in terms of visuals, smell and taste, and make sure you write its name, producer and year of production clearly.

Wines are generally rated on a scale of 100 where bottles scoring more than 85 are considered good while those scoring 50 are considered F grade.

Of course, this all depends on an individual’s taste, and there’s no fixed norm to follow.



It’s after you taste the wines that you ask yourself some basic questions:

1. Did you like your wine and if not, mention what you didn’t like about it. It could be its flavor or dry taste on your tongue.

2. What food do you think goes best with the wine?

3. Do you feel like buying it?

4. Is the wine recommendable to friends or family members?

5. Do you want to conduct your own wine hosting session?



The skill of tasting wines is not something you develop overnight. It needs practice, where the more wines you taste, the better you become at it.

Just follow the basic steps mentioned here, experiment with some bottles on your own and it even helps if you maintain a journal while doing all this.

Keep taking notes of all the drinks you taste and with time and practice; you will be able to quickly identify glass a wine! Cheers!



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