How to Taste Wine©

How to Taste Wine©

Below is a simple aide memoire that we use for our Society meetings on how to taste wine. This gives a total objective score out of 20 – up to:

3 for Appearance,
7 for Nose, and
10 for Palate

I find it useful to make an additional, subjective score out of 10 for ‘Likeability’. This helps me to recall the wines I liked most (or least) and does not always mirror the objective score for quality.

We use our senses to taste wine using 3 objective steps: Appearance, Nose and Palate.

  • Look at the wine tilted away from you at an angle of 45°, holding the glass stem
  • Swirl the glass to increase the aromatic intensity and evaporation
  • Sniff the wine deeply, swirl and sniff again. Think of what you are smelling
  • Sip the wine, a good amount, followed by air
  • Swish it around, to coat all inside your mouth and hold for 3-5 seconds
  • Savour the wine to assess any lingering aftertaste. You don’t need to swallow to taste
  • Clean the palate between with an unsalted cracker

Appearance: (score out of 3) tells you about age, quality, sweetness and condition

  • Figure out the colour and hue:
    • Assess the wine for colour depth by looking from above at the glass stem. Is it light-, medium- or full-bodied?
    • White wines darken by barrels, age, density and sweetness
    • Red wines are darkened by grape-skin compounds; lightened and browned by age
  • Consider clarity and opacity:
    • Wine must be clear and bright, not hazy or cloudy
    • Are there bubbles? What size?
  • Swirl and look at the ‘legs’ or ‘tears’: this viscosity tells you about the alcohol concentration

Nose: (score out of 7) tells you about the cleanliness, fruit intensity and oak presence

  • Off-odours can be caused by oxidation, reduction or poor corks
  • What are the primary (grapes), secondary (yeast and bacteria), tertiary (ageing) odours? Does the smell remind you of anything specific?
  • Aromas are more subtle and make up 75% of taste perception (10,000 smells; 6 tastes)

Palate: (score out of 10) tells you about sweetness, acidity, body, tannin, alcohol, flavour, balance

  • Tastes are sweet (honey), sour (lemon), salty (soy sauce), bitter (tea), fat (butter), umami (MSG)
  • Sweetness (tongue tip) is from residual sugar and tells you if the wine is dry, off-dry or sweet
  • Acidity or sourness is sensed on first contact with the tongue (front sides). It makes your mouth water. Acidity lessens as grapes ripen
  • Body refers to the weight and feel of the wine in the mouth
  • Tannin (red wines) dries your mouth out. It comes from grape pips, stems, skins: also wood
  • Alcohol feels as heat in the throat and as a fuller mouth feel. It conveys aromas to your nose
  • Flavour informs quality and can be simple to complex. Look for those you recognize. Consider the fruit and non-fruit flavours and their intensity
  • Balance is about whether the components are in harmony, or does one dominate
  • Finish (Aftertaste). The longer the finish the better the quality

Likeability: (score out of 10) to remind you how much you liked the wine

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  1. A nice, informative article. Thank you for writing it. We’ve been tasting for years scoring out of 10, ignoring the traditional ways. Glad to find someone else who does the same – albeit while respecting tradition at the same time ?

    1. Cape Wine Lovers Society

      Thank you. Please share and look at the Facebook page too 🙂

  2. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading
    it, you are a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and
    will come back later on. I want to encourage continue your great job,
    have a nice weekend!

  3. Peter we’ve just launched today! I am desperate to hear your opinion on our scoring system – will you have a look? 🙂

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