There is a science to the slightly over-the-top ritual of swirling, sniffing and savouring a glass of wine. As well as making you look cool, taking a considered approach to your glass will help you figure out a few things about the wine you’re drinking. Tasting a wine before you drink will help you discover if the wine is well-made, if it has any faults, and most importantly, whether you like it or not. With some practice, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly what it is you like in a wine, which will make buying the next one easier.
Sight is the first clue as to how a wine will taste. You can tell just by looking that a clear, pale Pinot Grigio will be light and fresh, and a deep, golden Verdicchio will be rich and full of depth. Likewise, a pale, bricky Nebbiolo will give you earthy complexity, while an opaque, purple Primitivo will have rich, unbridled fruit.
Now it’s time to stick your nose in the glass. Smell is the most important sense when it comes to wine, as it informs a lot of our taste as well. Note your first impressions – Fruit? Spice? Oak? Or a combo of all three? A good wine will have all its aromas in harmony, rather than fighting each other.
Take another big sniff and see if you can dig a bit deeper. Maybe there’s some liquorice or old leather behind that blackcurrant, or something that reminds you of peaches with whipped cream. If you can’t come up with any smells, don’t panic – like anything, it takes practice. Keep smelling wine and thinking about it, and keep experiencing as many flavours as you can.
The wine’s taste and mouthfeel are the final pieces in the puzzle. The most important thing that a good wine should have is a balance between fruit and acidity. Too much of the former and a wine is flabby and cloying, and too much of the latter and the wine is thin and sour. While you are slurping your wine, take a second to think back to any smells you identified, and see if you can taste them on the palate as well. Are there more flavours you didn’t notice before?
If your wine is a red one, it will have tannins, which come from the skins and seeds of the grapes. Tannin is an important component of wine, as it gives structure and body to the wine. You’ll be able to feel them as a kind of grippy texture on your gums. A good wine has tannins that matches the rest of its flavour. Think about whether the tannins are very strong, or so weak that you can hardly detect them. Are they coarse, or more fine-grained? Tannins tend to ease and mellow out as a wine ages, so wines like Barolo, which have very intense tannins in their youth, are often cellared for many years.