Sometimes tasting wine STILL makes me nervous. Friends who aren’t wine nerds like myself watch me intently as a swirl and sniff my glass, expecting me to say something… intelligent about the wine. Wine industry friends look at me waiting for me to say something that reflects what they’re thinking/smelling/tasting. My point? Even after trying thousands of wines, it can still be nerve-wracking! But not to worry: here are some tips to help you while tasting/discussing the characteristics of wines. The goal is to make you feel a bit more comfortable during a tasting, so that you enjoy the focal point of the event: the wine!!!

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Wineries often give you a paper to take tasting notes. Use this bright paper as a backdrop to view the wine’s color.

1. Always look at the wine before you drink it.

Why? The wine’s color can tell you a lot about a wine, particularly its age: older wines tend to be orange or brown colored, not a dark red.

The color can also indicate the varietal, too: Pinot Noir tends to be a bit more light red/orange, while some varietals, like Tannat, are so inky and purple that they are almost black.

Feel like this process leaves you staring at a glass of wine with nothing to say about the color? Not to worry: give it time! A few tastings and you’ll be comfortable with the wine colors and be commenting on the color like a pro. 🙂

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2. Smell it. Stick your nose in and really smell.

Then swirl it and smell. Does it smell different? It should! After allowing a bit of oxygen to incorporate into the wine by swirling, the wine will “come alive” and you should be able to smell more aromas and flavors.

Swirl and sniff again. This time, the alcohol will come through (you might even feel your nose burn a bit if you are tasting a wine that is higher in alcohol).

Repeat the process again; this time, you will smell the vanilla and toasty flavors from the oak (if the wine was aged in oak). I love this evolution of the wine throughout a tasting!

What do you smell? Flowers? Fruits? Herbs?As you train your nose to recognize aromas, your brain might need gently reminders of the things you might be smelling. Check out the Aromas in Wine pages for some a little guidance: we list common floral aromas, fruit aromas, herbaceous aromas, and even strange aromas.

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3. Taste.

Does the wine hit you with fruit and other flavors, or is it more subdued? What about acidity: does there seem to be a lot, or a little? How are the tannins: low levels, or high? Are they “green”, or do they linger, or are they soft, or big? How’s the finish: does it linger?

A great (and practical) conversation is always what you would pair the wine with. You might come up with some interesting pairings in conversation!

STILL don’t know what to say? How about if you like it or not? No reason necessary as to why you do or don’t like it: at the end of the day, the goal is to drink a wine that TASTES GOOD… right?