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Montana Rae Sommelier

How to Taste Wine

how to montana rae podcast wine tasting Jan 18, 2022

You can analyze the fun out of anything, but that’s not what the process of learning to taste wine is all about. Tasting using a strategic approach is the best way to learn about different styles and better understand your preferences. Comparison is the key! Comparison of one wine to another and comparison of the aromas and flavors of a wine to things that are not wine (fruit, flowers, herbs, spices, vegetables, etc).

The more we taste and compare, the more we build our mental catalog. This process equals experience and experience equals confidence. It’s like anything! Practice makes perfect. The good news is that tasting wine is a lifelong process. While some people are remarkably skilled wine tasters, there’s no such thing as a perfect taster. Why? Because each of us is different and we each experience wine in our own unique way.

The approach I have mapped out for you today is fairly standard in the wine world but with a few personalizations that I believe help make this process a bit simpler and hopefully more approachable. Next week, we’ll be diving into how to describe wine to other people. For now, it’s all about you and only you!

My goal is to create an interactive experience for you. Whether you’re exploring this on your own or with a partner or group, I hope that you’ll taste along as you read and listen and refer to this in the future as your learning evolves. Over time, you will develop your own unique method for tasting and cataloging!

I’ve outlined the supplies I suggest you set up with and the steps I use when tasting and evaluating wine below. I’ve also created this free PDF of The Wine Ship Wine Tasting Assessment worksheet that you can download, print, and use as an outline for your notes as you taste. 

Note: if you haven’t checked out Fundamentals of Wine: Climate, Terroir, and Structure I recommend doing so. This information is helpful to building your core understanding of wine.

Suggested Tasting Supplies:

  • At least one wine (2-4 wines is ideal!)
  • A clear wine glass with a stem. You can use the same glass for multiple wines, rinsing it out with water between wines, or a separate glass for each wine. 
    • Make sure your glasses don’t have soap scum and haven’t been stored in an area close to your kitchen spices. These scents and flavors can cling to the inside of the glass.
    • Need awesome wine glasses? Check out these ones from Zwiesel on Amazon. I live by this glass! I love the shape, size, and the fact that they are dishwasher safe. Yes, they call it a Sauvignon Blanc or Rosé glass, but it works great for all wines from red to white and in between. You will also see me with the larger Bordeaux version in hand when I’m tasting bold red wines, but I recommend starting with the first option.
  • Copy of The Wine Ship Tasting Assessment PDF, notepaper, or journal and a pen
  • Spit cup or bucket
  • Water
  • Good lighting
  • White paper to see the color of wine
  • Try to hydrate! It makes your senses more acute.

Clear the air!

Make your environment as pure as possible.
Here are a few basic “don’ts”:

  • Chew gum
  • Brush teeth before tasting
  • Eat pungent, lingering foods (garlic, onion, coffee etc)
  • Be in the middle of cooking aromatic food
  • Wear scented perfumes, lotion, or scented lip balm
  • Burn scented candles

Let's Get Started!

Steps to Tasting: 

Pour:
Whenever possible, pour the wine(s) 20-30 minutes before you taste. I recommend you do this with all wines, even whites and rosé. Why pour ahead of time? The flavors and aromas are more pronounced when the wine has a chance to breathe and come up a few degrees in temperature. The exception is sparkling wine, which should always be tasted cold (between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Sight:
Look at the wine in the glass from every angle. Notice the color, hue, opacity, and intensity. Can you see through it when you hold it against your note paper or is it dark all the way from the core to the rim? Notice changes in the gradient and spectrum of color. 

Swirl:
As with tasting, your swirl technique evolves with practice. If you’re new, swirl the wine keeping the bottom of the glass on the table for stability. The purpose of swirling is to aerate the wine, exposing the liquid to as broad a surface area in the glass as possible. As you swirl, the wine will coat the glass and you’ll get your first hints about the body of the wine. Does it cling to the glass and drizzle down slowly? Or do the tears fall down in a stream like water? Does the color stain the glass? Take notes on your observations.

Smell:
When smelling the wine, stick your entire nose well into the glass. Don’t be shy. You want your senses enveloped as much as possible! If you’ve been to a yoga class, think about the Ujjayi breathing technique they often recommend: in through the nose, pausing with the lungs full, and out through an open mouth. Your nose is incredibly sensitive and breathing out through the mouth allows you to tap into your entire olfactory system. As you make your observations, notice things on the inhale, but also on the exhale. Look for things you recognize: fruit, flowers, herbs, alcohol. Does the wine taste good? Fresh? Is there something funky or “off” about it? In this step, you’re also looking for flaws! If the wine is bad, you may not want to taste it after all (we’ll talk about it in another episode!). Write down your observations.

Sip & Spit:
Take a small sip and move it around your mouth, covering as many taste buds as possible. Aerate the wine across your palate by imagining you’re blowing on hot soup, but in reverse, while the wine is still in your mouth. Another practice is to try “chewing” on the wine as if it’s a bite of food. Spit it out and make your observations. Not only of the flavors you experienced when the wine was in your mouth, but also after you spit. Is there an aftertaste? How long is the finish, as in, how long do the flavors carry on after you’ve spat?

Compare:
Do the flavors you experience on the palate match the aromas you detected on the nose? Or was there something unexpected? A big one here is sweetness. Sometimes we think a wine smells sweet but we taste it and it’s dry. What gave you the impression of sweetness? Write down anything and everything you’re tasting!

Analyze:
In the professional wine world, the analysis step mostly has to do with assessing the quality and condition of the wine. For our purpose today, I pose a more important question: do YOU like the wine? That’s what this exercise is all about! Write your thoughts and impressions. If you like, you can even create your own unique rating system! The more you taste, the more you’ll know what types of wines you like best.

Revisit:
I touched on this earlier and it really is an important piece to the puzzle. Observing the way a wine evolves over time in your glass can teach us so much about it. The bottle is a time capsule and waking the wine up can require patience. Going through this process again after 20-30 minutes is super interesting! Jot down anything you notice has changed in your notes.

“It’s all about personalizing your experience with wine. There’s no cookie-cutter way to do everything right or wrong. Every wine is so different and every person is so different that sometimes guiding those star crossed lovers to each other is really what it’s all about.” - Montana

I hope you enjoyed this approach to the tasting process. Try as many wines as you can and taste often! Share your thoughts and impressions with the rest of The Wine Ship Cru by dropping comments and questions in the discussion below.

Cheers to you and happy tasting! - Montana Rae, Certified Sommelier

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