How to taste wine - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

Swirling wine glasses and sniffing their contents is a sure sign of a wine enthusiast. And when they start slurping the wine rather than just drinking it straight down then you've met someone who knows how to taste wine like a pro. But what's the point of this elaborate show and how do you actually do it?

Swirling and slurping will aerate the wine and this helps to release aromas which you can capture with a short, sharp sniff at the top of the glass. And if the glass is tulip shaped - that is it narrows slightly towards the rim - then it concentrates these precious aromas making it easier to get a nostril full when you sniff and then analyse what these aromas remind you of.

By putting words to these aromas and trying to force your senses to pick up just what it reminds you of (lemons? burnt toast? that aftershave you got last Christmas?) then it makes it whole lot easier to remember that particular wine, and grape variety, for next time.

By building up a memory bank of aromas and tastes allows you to sort wines into categories, and just as importantly, decide whether you actually like them.

Over time the swirl, sniff and the final slurping part gets easier. Practise means the swirl of wine stays in the glass and the sniff looks professional rather than the result of a cold. The slurping is more difficult but is worth mastering as it really brings out the full array of flavours in a wine - many you didn't know were there until you get the hang of pursing the lips and sucking in air at the same time. It helps if you have a gap between your front teeth but we can't all be lucky enough to have this but give it a try anyway.

For first time wine tasters I suggest choosing a wine with some easy to find aromas and flavours - say a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or if you want a red, a Cabernet Sauvignon. Rosé wines are difficult to analyse this way as they generally have such delicate characteristics that even the practiced wine taster can find it hard to put words to what they find in the glass (too often it just ends up as 'strawberry icecream').

So once you've got a measure of wine in your glass (about a finger nail deep - but compare this from the outside of the glass, you don't have to dip your finger in) then give the wine a couple of swirls. Rather than holding the glass out in front of you it can be easier to keep the wine on a flat surface and rotate the wine that way - fewer spills too.

Then take a short sniff from the top of the glass. What is the most obvious aroma that hits you? If you have a Sauvignon Blanc then it's probably going to be gooseberry or even elderflower. You'll note straight away that if you haven't ever smelt a gooseberry or an elderflower in a June hedgerow then you'll come up with other words to describe what you are smelling. Perhaps this is another fruit or an object that has a particular smell - anything really that will help build up your memory bank of wine aromas. Whatever you smell is correct, there is no one right word or description.

Next have a go at tasting the wine - that is taking a small sip while sucking in someair at the same time. Try to keep the wine in your mouth for a couple of seconds rather than swallowing it straight down as this will allow your taste buds to register the maximum number of flavours. And what do these tastes remind you of?

If it's the same Sauvignon Blanc from earlier then it will more than likely taste the same as it smells - of gooseberries. But wait, can you detect another flavour, say lemon or asparagus? Have a second go at slurping some wine - can you detect even more flavours? If you can then you've a got a flavourful wine in the glass and one that is more enoyable than one that has just one or two words to describe it.

Make a note of this fab wine - either mentally or in writing (apps are available for this) to ensure you buy it again another time.

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About WineUncorked and its editor, Paula Goddard Read more