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If you’re a casual wine fan, you probably know how to drink wine perfectly well - but do you know how to taste it? If you were to visit a winery, would you feel lost among all of that swirling and sniffing and spitting? Don’t worry. With a few basic tips, you’ll discover that tasting wine is less intimidating than you might think.
It is important for conditions to be right when you’re tasting wine. That means minimal distractions and no competing fragrances; you do not want to taste wine at a big party in a perfume factory. You’ll also want clean, quality wine glasses that are stemmed, clear and big enough to let you swirl the wine without spilling it. Make sure the wine is served at the right temperature. Start with a clean palette (no eating garlic pasta, sweet desserts or spicy foods right before wine tasting) and keep a palate cleanser like water or crackers nearby for between sips.
As excited as you might be to drink, the first step of wine tasting is just to look at the wine. First, look straight down into the glass, then hold the glass to the light and then tilt the glass. With practice, you’ll see the wine’s depth, hue and saturation, which provide clues about its density, purity, age and weight.
Now, it’s time for the fun part – give it a swirl! Keep the bottom of the glass on the table and swirl vigorously for five seconds, aerating the wine. This will release more of the wine’s aroma and allow you to check out the wine’s ‘legs’, or the streaks of wine that cling to the glass’ sides. The leggier the wine, the higher the sugar content and the more alcoholic and dense it’s likely to be.
Now comes the all-important smell test. Take a few quick, short sniffs with your nose hovering over the wine glass. Think about what you smell. What fruit aromas are there? What flowers, herbs, spices and vegetable scents can you pick out? Can you smell the barrel? Does it smell like toast, smoke, vanilla, chocolate, espresso? Maybe you smell yeast, honey or even caramel? Descriptions can be exotic and often downright confusing, so focus on what you know and describe the wine in a way that makes sense to you.
Finally - now you get to taste! Take a small sip and let the wine coat your tongue, swirling it around in your mouth. Try to get a sense of the wine’s balance. How sweet or acidic is it? How dry? Is the flavour harmonious? Complex? Take note of your impression of the wine - this part is highly subjective. Did you like it? Great. Not so much? On to the next! Wine is all about preference and there’s no right or wrong answer.
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