You might wonder what all the fuss is about learning how to drink wine like an expert, or how to drink wine properly, but the truth is that there is a way of enjoying wine that rewards you with a good wine’s best characteristics of taste, aroma, and complexity.
Whether you prefer a delicious red wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a buttery white wine, like a Chardonnay, or any wine in between, you’ll get the most out of your bottle of wine by learning some simple steps to “uncorking” a full wine-tasting experience by using your senses of sight, taste, and smell.
Call it learning how to drink wine properly, or call it enjoying the wine properly, there’s a certain way that it’s done.
How to Drink Wine – the Basic Steps
Think of wine tasting as an adventure in, well wine tasting, one that will deepen your appreciation of wines. We’ll start with the basic senses in the order of seeing (looking), smell, and taste, and you easily catch on to expand your wine experience, finding new ways to describe what your senses are identifying. You’ll soon know how to drink wine like an expert, properly, and all that!
How to Drink Wine Step 1 – Look at Color and Clarity (Opaqueness)
For this first step it’s beneficial to hold up behind the wine glass a white piece of paper, a white linen napkin, or something that creates a white neutral background.
Pour a glass of a favorite wine, either red or white, into an appropriate wine glass. Then examine the wine, by tilting the glass away from you so that you can observe the wine’s color starting at the rim of the glance and following the wine to the center of the glass.
Looking at the color, search beyond your basic blush, red, or white to find a closer description of the wine. In a red wine you might see shades of ruby, purple, magenta, garnet, red brick or brown, just to mention a few colors. In a light wine you might find that you’d describe the color as golden, light yellow, clear with no particular color, straw-like with shades of green, or amber.
After looking for color, observe the wine for its opaque characteristics; for example, is the wine heavy, dark, watery, translucent? How else could you describe it? Is it clear or cloudy, or does it have sediment floating in it, like pieces of cork?
Aged red wines tend to have a tinge of orange at the edge of its color in comparison with a younger red of the same varietal; White wines typically don’t age well, but an older white wine is generally darker than a younger wine of the same varietal.
How to Drink Wine Step 2 – Smell
Next, release the aroma of your wine by swishing it around for a good 10 to 12 seconds, and then sniff it to get a first impression of the wine.
After that first impression settles, press your nose down into the wine glass and inhale deeply through your nose. What are your impressions of the aroma now? The smell of berries, oak, flowers, citrus and vanilla are common descriptions. Can you add anything to that list?
Humans can pick up on thousands of unique scents, but our taste perception is confined to sweet, sour salty, and bitter. The combination of taste and smell is what allows us to discern flavor. Our sense of smell is key to properly analyzing a wine.
How to Drink Wine Step 3 – Taste
Finally, sample the wine, beginning with a little sip and rolling it around the inside of your mouth, letting it connect with all of our taste-buds. This will set the stage for the three phases of taste testing: the Attack, the Evolution, and the Finish Phase.
Sipping wine slowly allows your taste-buds and your sense of smell to recognize the finer flavors of the wine that are not detected as easily when its gulped down.
The Attack Phase is the initial impression that the wine makes on your palate and it is comprised of four things that cause the initial sensations: acidity, alcohol content, residual sugar, and tannins. The ideal impression would be if all of these sensations were equally balanced with one not overwhelming any of the others with its prominence.
These sensations don’t actually pronounce a particular flavor, such as fruity or oaky, as much as they combine to give impressions in complexity and intensity, softness or firmness, lightness or heaviness, crispness or creaminess, sweetness or dryness.
Next is the Evolution Phase (aka mid-palate or middle-range phase) and it refers to the actual taste of the wine on your palate. Here you will try to discern the wine’s “flavor profile”. In a red wine you might note flavors of being jammy or fruity – plum, berries or fig; or of pepper and other spices (like cloves or cinnamon); or you might detect a smoky, oaky or other woody flavor. In a white wine you detect the flavor of apples, pears, tropical or citrus fruits, buttery, honey, or tastes of grass, earthiness or floral qualities.
The Finish Phase is when we detect how long a wine’s flavor impression lingers after we swallow the wine. It is also a key factor in knowing how to drink wine like an expert as it is when we might determine whether or not we want to have another sip of the wine, ever.
In this phase, we note how long a finish lasts – a few seconds, or longer? Does the taste hang with you or is it short-lived? And what did the wine’s weight feel like – light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied (like water, milk, and cream, respectively? What is your last flavor impression (plumy, buttery, spicy)? Also note whether you can taste a remnant of the wine at the back of your mouth or throat? Do you want another sip or did the wine have too bitter an end?
Some wine connoisseurs keep a wine journal wherein they keep a record of the wine’s name, their impressions of looking, smelling, and tasting, as well as jotting down the wine producer and vintage year for future reference.
You’ve just learned the basics of how to drink wine properly, but there are many books available to help you further explore this fine art and expand your knowledge and pleasure of drinking wine.