Wine Tasting – Sip

Now the best part ….. Sip! Take a significant mouthful of the wine ….. usually a tablespoon or two. Roll the wine around in your mouth and on you tongue. Note the wine’s flavors and its texture. Do you get an impression of sweetness, sourness, or bitterness? Do the wine’s flavors match up to its aromas or do you detect something different? Do you feel the wine’s weight: a wine that gives a heavier, thicker impression is called a full-bodied wine, while a lighter, thinner wine is called light-bodied. With reds you may detect the wine’s tannins as a velvety or drying sensation on your tongue. Do you get a thermoreaction …. a sense of heat or coolness …. which reflects the level of alcohol in the wine. I personally like to sip some of the wine through my front teeth to provide even more aeration to the wine prior to finally swallowing.

Wine Tasting – Smell

After you have evaluated your wine with your sight and swirled it in your glass, proceed to smell or sniff your wine. Different wines have different aromatic intensities, the best technique is to smell/sniff in three steps …. the chest, chin, and nose test. At each step take a sniff of your wine see what, if anything, you can smell from your glass. If you can detect a smell from your chest the wine is very aromatic. If you have to stick your nose into the glass to smell anything, the wine is usually neutral or muted. Three are currently over 200 or more aromatics commonly detected in wine …… everything from fruits, flowers, and herbs to vegetable, leather and stone! You can with practice learn to identify many of these aromas. What you smell may not be what another person smells. Each individuals own sense receptors may detect smells that others do not. Don’t worry if you can’t smell what you are “supposed to” …… just make notes of the differences.

Wine Tasting – Swirl

After you have evaluated you wine with your sight, it is time to “swirl” your wine.In this step you expose the wine to oxygen. This oxidation intensifies the aromas in the glass so that you can better sense them. When learning to swirl, hold your glass on the table by the base and swirl the wine. As you become more experienced you can hold the glass off the table by the stem.

Wine Tasting – “See”

As I shared earlier there are the five “S’s” of wine tasting: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, and Summarize. The next series of posts will go a little more in depth as to how each should be used in tasting wines.

After you have poured yourself a glass of wine you need to “see” the wine ….. what is its color and translucence. The color and translucence will provide you clues as to the grape variety, the style, and the age of the wine. We normally think of wines as red, white, and rose’ ……. however there is an entire spectrum of colors that wines can show: ruby, garnet, brick, tawny, violet, pink, peach, salmon, straw, gold, green, and many more. Wines can also show pale, medium, and deep tones of any of these colors. As wines age white wines tend to show deeper colors while red wines tend to lose some of their color.

Make notes of the color and transparency of the wine, note the age of the wine in your notes. As you taste more wines you can compare your notes to see how your knowledge of “Seeing” is progressing.

Sauvignon Blanc / Fume Blanc

This white grape offers flavors of citrus fruit, melon, fig, herb, and sometimes grassiness. It can also offer vanilla and creamy flavors when introduced to oak. Typically light, crisp, and full of fruit, Sauvignon Blanc thrives in the Bordeaux region of France and is used to produce the delicious Pouilly-Fume and Sancerre of the Loire Valley and has also been very successful in California, New Zealand, and Chile. Robert Mondavi coined the name Fume Blanc in the early ’60’s to increase the grapes popularity in the United States. Today Fume Blanc has become more of a stylist reference to Sauvignon Blanc which has been oak aged. Serve this great wine with shellfish and seafood.


Zinfandel is the descendant of Italy’s Primitivo grapeĀ and one of American’s most widely planted red grape varieties. This grape is capable of producing top quality red wines which can ravel Cabernet Sauvignon. It offers an array of flavors including black and red fruit, spice, pepper, tar, and licorice. There are three distinct styles of Zinfandel: 1) fresh and fruity, easy drinking with light tannins 2) medium-bodied with fuller flavor with noticeable spiciness and ripe tannins and 3) a big, concentrated and powerful style with intense fruit and unbelievable richness.

Zinfandels are best served at room temperature with beef, lamb, burgers, or ribs.

Pinot Noir

Wines made with Pinot Noir are known for their elegance and refinement. They usually offer an exotic bouquet along with a velvety, mouth feeling texture. Pinot Noir has flavors of ripe fruit, cherry, chocolate, toast, and spices. Most famous in the Burgundy region of France, where it is the only grape permitted to be used in the famous red wines of Cote d’Or. Generally Pinot Noirs are low in tannins and pair with salmon, turkey, pork, and cheese. Pinot Noir sales increased greatly when the movie Sideways was released several years ago.


Currently Merlot is the world’s most popular red wine. It was originally used as a blending grape in Bordeaux to soften the Cabernet Sauvignon. Because of its fresh, ripe fruit flavors, Merlot has captured the attention of the everyday wine consumer. Merlot offers red fruit components such as cherry, plum, and currants with hints of cedar prominent with oak aging. Merlot is capable of producing wines which are full-bodied and tannic, but most wines focus on a friendly, soft, and fruity style. Merlot should be served at room temperature with lamb, duck, veal, and cheese.