Whether it’s a home wine tasting for friends or a tasting at a winery in Napa Valley, there are some rules that can make it more enjoyable.
Always select the wines so that the light, weaker wines come first and the stronger ones follow. Dry wines should precede the sweet ones and typically white before red. Also you should progress according to quality. Don’t start the tasting off with a $75 bottle of Stag’s Leap Chardonnay and then finish with a run of the mill $10 wine.
As you begin to taste the wines, keep the Five S’s in mind: “See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, and Savor.”
The first step is to enjoy the wine's color. For white wines, the older the wine the more golden it gleams. It can be a pale yellow all the way to an amber color. Reds can range from a garnet red to a beautiful deep purple. Tip your glass (partially!) and view the color against a white background, such as a napkin or tablecloth, to admire the hue.
To release the aroma, gently swirl the wine in your glass. This mixes oxygen into the wine to release the fragrance. To best swirl wine, place the glass on the table and hold the stem of the glass. With the glass remaining on the table, quickly move it in small circles.
Much of wine's pleasure is in the aroma, which comes from the grapes, and reflects the wine making process. After swirling, immediately place your nose close to the opening of the glass. Gently sniff the wine making note of your first impressions. Depending on the type of wine, you may discover hints of familiar smells such as fruit, spice, floral or even toasted (such as nuts, coffee or cocoa). Higher quality wines will express more aromas than inexpe3nsive, poorly made wines.
Take a medium-sized sip small sip, roll it around in your mouth for about three to five seconds. Breathe in a little air to once again release the aroma as you are tasting. Notice the taste and the "texture" - how it feels in your mouth, from light and refreshing to full and robust. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to experience a wine’s flavor.
Swallow. The former may sound impolite, but it's not. In fact, it's the only way to taste if you are sampling many wines, and it can be done very discreetly. At many tasting counters, you'll notice a large bucket for that purpose as well as for any leftover wine in your glass. You can reset your palate by eating a piece of bread or cracker. If you aren't driving or consuming many wines, you may prefer to swallow the small samples. Just don't overdo it.
Most wines have a lingering aftertaste or "finish" even after you have completed the actual tasting. Take some time to appreciate the unique flavor of the wine.
You may want to write tasting notes, which at first might be very simple: deep red in color, fruity. With experience, your notes will become more descriptive.
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