How to taste wine

Everyone can learn how to taste wine. In fact, wine tasting is not just about tasting. You also need to look, smell and feel. In this guide we explain how to taste wine in four basic steps.

Person learning how to taste wine

Published April 10th 2020

Tasting wine is not as complicated as it might seem. In order to understand your own preferences you need to be able to understand the flavours and describe what you are tasting. A wine tasting event with friends is a great way to develop this skill and learn about wine. This guide will teach you to taste wine like a pro. All you need to do is to follow 4 simple steps.

Step #1: Look

After pouring the wine into the glass, you should look at its color and opacity. Make sure to look at the wine in natural lightning conditions and with a white background. The look of the wine will give you hints of what you are going to taste. Quickly swirl the wine around in the glass and try to describe it. If it is a white wine, is it pale or golden? If it is a red wine, is it light or deep? Purple or red? Do you notice if the wine forms “legs” on the sides of the glass? These legs, also called “tears” are usually an indication of the wine's alcohol level. 

Step #2: Smell

Your nose can give you many hints about the wine. In order to be able to capture all the wine's aromas, you need to put your nose into the glass, and try to describe the aromas. For a beginner this step might be a bit difficult at first, because it is hard to put words on what you are smelling. Just focus on what you are actually smelling and do your best to describe it. Give it time and smell the wine several times. Ask yourself which are the most dominant aromas? After smelling it a few times, can you identify any aromas which where not dominant at first? Taking notes will help you remember.

Step #3: Taste

Now it's finally time to taste the wine. Most people know how to drink wine, but the focus here is to taste the wine. You will not be able to fully taste the wine if you just take a little sip and swallow it immediately. There are many techniques on how to taste wine, but it is important that you take a big sip and swirl it around in your mouth in order for it to cover your tongue. Different parts on your tongue are going to pick up different flavours. By coating your tongue, you will be able to taste all of the different flavours in the wine. Always pay attention to your first impression of the wine. What are the first flavours you capture? After a few sips you will taste more flavours. Don’t rush this step. Instead, you should let the flavours come to you.

Extra tip: If you want to taste wine like a professional sommelier, you should try to suck air through your teeth while having the wine in your mouth. This will aerate the wine and help you taste all the different flavours.

When you taste the wine you are not only looking for the different flavours, but also the feeling of the wine. You need to judge the following: 

  1. Structure. Is the wine sour, bitter or sweet? A sweet white wine will feel differently from a crisp dry white wine. 
  2. Texture: Does the wine have low or high tannins? Low or high alcohol? Do you think it is a light- medium or full-bodied wine? Why?
  3. Length: Does the taste of the wine stay in your mouth for a long time? How is the aftertaste? Is it smooth, dry, bitter, silky or anything else?

Step #4: Write down your thoughts

If you want to develop your skills as a wine taster, you need to take wine tasting notes. After (or during!) your wine tasting you need to write down your thoughts. Your notes are important for the future because you will most likely go back to your notes. If you don't know what to write, try to answer the following questions: 

  1. Did you like the wine or not?
  2. What flavours could you identify when you smelled and tasted the wine?
  3. Did the wine feel balanced or not? If it was not balanced, was it because of too high/low acidity, too much/not enough tannic, toomuch/not enough fruit, too sweet or too alcoholic? Or anything else?
  4. What impressed you about the wine?
  5. What will you remember?

Enjoy your wine tasting!