6 Great Wine Tasting Tips for Beginners
Love wine but never had the nerve to go to a wine tasting? We get it. Plenty of people are a bit intimidated at the thought of going to a winery tasting knowing that they could be surrounded by people saying things like, “I can taste the dirt in this,” or, “The tannins in this are impressive,” knowing that their chief inner narrative would be, “What’s a tannin?”
Good news, wine lovers. You don’t need to know a thing about tannins, acids, or vintage years to enjoy a wine tasting. The first rule to enjoying yourself is to throw out all the rules you think you need to know in order to enjoy a tasting experience. Wine is what the drinker makes of it, and everyone’s preferences are different. Here are six simple steps to enjoying a wine tasting, even if you’re unsure of whether to swish and spit or drink the whole glass.
- Swirl & Sniff. It’s like a scratch & sniff sticker, only better. You should absolutely plan to swirl the wine in your glass, and then lower your nose to the rim and inhale deeply before tasting. The swirling action allows oxygen to enter the wine and become more fragrant. And, while you may not be able to identify things like, “essence of oak” in the bouquet, your sense of smell plays a huge role in your sense of taste. Taking a strong whiff of the wine before tasting it primes your palate for the flavors to be expected.
- Swish & Spit or Swallow? This is perhaps the most commonly asked question about wine tasting. The thought that you should take the wine into your mouth and then spit it out was born out of a necessity to remain sober throughout the entire tasting. Clearly, if you drink five (or more!) full glasses of wine your decision-making process as to which one you liked the most will lean heavily towards the latter. But today most wineries are offering smaller portions for their tastings, generally just two or three ounces, and the chances of intoxication are pretty low. So, take the wine into your mouth, allow it to swish and dance over your tongue as you consider the flavors, and then swallow it. Or spit it out. It’s totally your choice, and both are totally acceptable. Hate the wine? Feel free to pour the rest of your sample into the “spittoon” bucket. This is also acceptable and commonplace at tastings. You can’t be expected to like them all, right?
- Ask Questions. Some people may know the names of popular wine regions and showy grape blends. Most won’t. Both are OK. If you feel like the wine steward is speaking French when they rattle off the vineyard names, grape varieties, or flavors you should be looking for, feel free to stop them and ask for clarification. Winemakers love to talk about these things and often forget that not everyone knows their jargon. If you want to do a little research before your tasting, look into what the region is known for. Certain grape varieties, like Chardonnay, take on characteristics of the soil where they are grown, meaning that a Chardonnay in an area known for producing great Chardonnay could be quite memorable. A quick Google search should suffice.
- Build a Budget. The cost of a wine tasting will vary greatly. They can vary anywhere from complimentary to upwards of $50 per experience. It’s never a bad idea to ask about the cost – and what is included in that cost – before choosing which wineries you’ll visit. If you luck into a value driven tasting, it’s considered polite to purchase a bottle at the end of the tasting.
- Take Notes. It’s unrealistic for anyone to be expected to remember all of the details about five wines considered in such a small window of time. No one expects you to do that. It’s totally acceptable to ask for a pen and paper at the start of your experience (plenty of vineyards will even provide this without prompting) for you to jot down notes as you go. There is no “right” or “wrong” when it comes to what to write, either. It’s just as acceptable to write, “notes of raspberry” as it is to write, “yuck.” Your notes are used to help you remember what you liked, what you didn’t, and why.
- Don’t plan on consuming solely wine during your experience. You should plan to drink water between the tastings, both to clear your palate as well as to keep you hydrated, as well as to consume small bites. Most wineries will provide a cheese board or nuts, but if they don’t, be sure to ask if you may order one. It highlights the flavor of the wine and keeps you from feeling woozy.