Wine has a hideous habit of getting lumped with the snooty, snobbish and downright pretentious – but why? We all drink it, we all enjoy it. Today, with these 5 simple steps, we we destroy that stereotype and give wine back to the people, huzzah!

We are starting off with the wine already poured, if you are uncertain of the etiquette to get you to this point then you will LOVE my post on ‘HOW TO…Look Like You Know Red Wine’. This covers all the basics from selecting a wine to pouring it correctly.

There is a lot of conflicting nonsense floating around about how you should hold your wine glass, so simply remember this:  

It is as simple as that – If your glass has a stem use it! 

The only exception to this rule is the Brandy Snifter, easily distinguishable from a wine glass, it has a teeny, tiny stem – no stem at all really. In this case, cup the glass in your hand as though it was a magic 8 ball telling you to ‘try again later’.

This Chinese proverb will always ring true:

Rather than eat, (unless you are fond of a wine ice pop and who isn’t?) we of course relate this to drinking and tasting. 

So, what are you trying to find out from looking at your wine?

Concentration

  • Hold your glass at a slight tilt over the white of your table cloth, napkin or shirt
  • Where the wine meets the rim, you will be able to determine a lot, let’s talk about:

Bordeaux Winesa mix of Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot grapes 

*Long and Short refers to the ‘Length’ of a wine – essentially the length of time you can taste a wine after swallowing.

SIDE NOTE: An older wine will usually have a lighter colour. This is not due to the reasons outlined above but the ‘ageing’ process where the tannins have helped to mellow the wine and turn it into a sumptuous glass of YUM!

Alcohol

There is often less focus on this area as it is entirely dependent on:

  1. The grape
  2. The blend
  3. The country of origin

These legs were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do…

When you give your wine a little swirl around the glass, you will notice tear-like residue running down the side of the glass. These are known as legs.

BIG, SLOW DROPS

  • Easy to remember: When you are drunk what do you do? Take, many, slow, long steps to get back to the bar – right? 
  • This means slow moving high density droplets are linked to a higher alcohol content in the wine. 

An exceptionally interesting part of tasting wine is the emphasis we put on actually smelling the wine. Did you know, this is the part where we describe the ‘flavours’ of a wine? 

Your little sniffer is far more powerful than you think, and honestly, with practice you can learn to discern particular scents in a wine that in the beginning all just smelt like, well, wine!  

The ONLY real reason for doing this, beyond helping us to enjoy the experience, is to help cement that particular wine in our memory.  Sommeliers smell and taste a huge amount of wines – how do they remember that this unlabelled bottle is a 1995 Chateau La Serre? By its unique aroma! 

Never let a wine boff scoff at your fruity description – remind them that aroma is based around your experiences and to help make that wine memorable FOR YOU. 

There are some staples when smelling, often unusual, for example an aged Sancerre will often be described to smell like cat pee, where as an aged Bordeaux can be said to have a barnyard smell – this description has said to have gone out of fashion, but if you ever come across this scent you will know exactly what I mean! 

This is down to the 3 foundations of wine aroma: 

These are from the grapes before the wine making process has begun, these depend heavily on what is known as the ‘terroir‘ of the region.

* Terroir – French word with no true translation but think of it as a wine’s habitat – soil, wind, atmosphere etc.

These are from the wine making process, I.e. how the yeast has interacted during ‘malolactic fermentation‘ or whether it has been aged in oak.

** Malolactic fermentation – Tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grapes is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid.

This is also known as a wine’s ‘Bouquet‘ and is the aroma developed from the chemical evolution of ageing after bottling.

If you are unsure of the terminology to use, here is a fantastic piece of kit known as the Wine Aroma Wheel:

This is the time we have been waiting for, time to swish, slosh and swoosh this divine liquid around your salivating palette before swallowing or spitting accordingly. 

Make sure the wine coats your entire palette and purse your lips drawing in a small amount of air and oxygen as you do this. 

There are 4 main elements of structure:

1) Acidity

Think about sucking a lemon, your mouth puckers but also waters, this is the key to identifying acidity in wine – how much does it make your mouth water? Acidity can make a red seem lighter than it is a white seem drier than it is making it the ‘Loki trickster God’ of all the elements.

Descriptors of acidic wines: mouthwatering, thirst-quenching, bright, zippy and refreshing

High acidity wines: 

  • White – Riesling, Chablis, Muscadet
  • Pinot Noir (depending on vintage)

Look for: 

  1. Cool climate areas
  2. High altitude regions
  3. Cold vintages

2) Sweetness

This is the most difficult element to detect as other factors can heavily influence our perceptions such as tannins and acidity. For example, a high acidity wine may be considered ‘dry’ (no or very little sweetness) or, a low tannin wine may be considered very sweet, but the actual level of sugars in the wine may completely contradict this.

3) Body

A combination of what a wine feels like in the mouth, ‘mouthfeel’ and how heavy the wine is on your tongue, ‘weight’. 

The easiest way to discern the body of a wine is perfectly described by winefolly.com:

“light-bodied feels like skim milk, medium-bodied like whole milk, and full-bodied like cream”

TOP TIP: A good rule of thumb to remember is that a ‘high-bodied’ wine will normally have high alcohol and a ‘low-bodied’ wine will normally have low alcohol.

Descriptors of full-bodied wines – big, powerful and heavy

Descriptors of low-bodied wines – light, delicate and easy to drink

4) Tannins

This is the most easily detectable element, quite simply – if all the moisture is sucked from your cheeks, you have a high tannin wine. Think cranberry juice. 

Tannins are usually only associated with red wine as they actually come from a grapes ‘ligature’ (the grape’s skin, stem, seeds and leaves) and these are usually ditched for white wine processing. 

A wine will change from the moment it is poured until you are shaking those last few drops from the rim of your glass into your cavernous gullet below. Make sure to keep going through Step Three and Four to see how oxygen, food and even atmosphere can shape a wine over time. 

FIN

The student has now become the master! It seems like a heck of a lot of knowledge to retain but if you calmly follow the steps outlined above and practice, not only will you be tasting like a pro but also drink some damn delicious wines along the way.


Take this knowledge on the road by hosting an awesome wine-tasting evening to rival that of a Loire lunchin. You can find all the tips you need in my post ‘HOW TO… Throw a Great Wine Tasting’. 

If you have enjoyed reading this post you will adore others on this site, make sure to check out my Food and Wine tags for more related content. Or perhaps you want to get in touch to see how this awesome copywriter can help your business to grow!