Wine Tasting For Beginners

In order to understand this nectar of the gods, you must drink it and wine tastings are the best way to learn. Let's find out how first.

Click here for a wine tasting cheat sheet.

If that is not the type of cheat sheet you're looking for, check out my wine values page. It tells you some ways that I consistently pick out good inexpensive wines.

If you are at home about an hour before, uncork your reds. Half an hour before uncork your whites and let them sit. Whites are not supposed to be served straight out of the refrigerator.

If you don't know about uncorking wine, check out our tutorial here and be sure to be gentle. No bruising please. Uncorking in advance will give them time to breathe, smell the cork though. It's a pleasant experience, as long as the wine hasn't turned. If it has, the cork will smell like vinegar.

Also, you might want to try just a sip. Just so you can make sure you opened the right bottle, right? Then let it come up to temperature. This will also give you a feel for how a wine develops as it breathes. Reds should be slightly below room temperature (60°F) and whites slightly above refrigerated temperature (44°F).

If you are wine tasting at a winery or a wine bar, don't worry, the wine is ready and so are you!

Then there are the glasses. A plastic cup will not do.

You will want the bowl of your glass to be big enough to allow for swirling and tipping. Check out our page on types of wine glasses for further instruction. I have suggestions for when you are getting started and some glass suggestions for when you start spending more money on wine.(Hint: Riedel)

Fill the glass between 1/3 and 1/2 of the way full. I prefer a 1/3 around here. It gives me plenty of room for swirling and sniffing.

Next, you will want to look at it against a white background. I've used everything from a menu to a friend's t-shirt. You use whatever is available.

Most wines are designed for drinking within the first three years. Their color should normally be bright, not very dingy or brown. The browning of a wine is due to the oxidation that occurs with age.

A red lightens and browns with age.

A white darkens and yellows or browns with age. Sometimes this means it has turned (to vinegar). Just think of an apple that has been cut. Brown is no good.

Sometimes though, it means it has had time to age and mellow. Giving it the time it needed to develop its bouquet. Musty wines just need time to breathe.

Vinegary wines have turned. Cardboard wines have been corked, or they have been contaminated. Don't drink them, unless you like that taste, I guess.

I like to smell the wine as soon as it is poured in my glass for a wine tasting. There is a smell of a newly poured wine that reminds me of the winery. Maybe you have noticed the same thing. I don't know if it is because the winery flavored the wine or because the wine flavored the winery but it takes me back.

Some people will take a sip right away before the swirling. We will leave that up to you though because you can get some off flavors.

Next, comes the swirling. You can choose to swirl the wine on the table or in the air. I prefer on a solid surface and in the beginning, it is easier to do on a solid surface. It feels like you have more control over the glass and when you are just learning to do something, it is best to feel in control.

Then smell. It is okay at this point if you only smell alcohol but see if you can smell beyond that.

We had a wine recently that smelled strongly of smoke. We smelled the cork initially though and smelled clove. So, we waited and about an hour later, it smelled of clove and tasted of it too. For other smells in regards to the nose of a wine, check out our page devoted to this.

Then, while inhaling take a sip of your wine. Stick your upper teeth against your bottom lip and suck air in. With a great bottle, this can take a minute or two to get to.

Why? Because the smell of a wine, the weight of it and the look of it sliding down your glass is as wonderful as the taste of it. Learn to enjoy each of these steps and wine tasting will become so much more to you.

As you taste the wine, notice the way it sets on your palate. The way it starts, finishes just before you spit or swallow and the middle.

What are the flavors you detect in all of these stages?

Are they different or is their no difference and the wine is hollow, or seems to be missing something?

Maybe you want to keep it in your mouth and swish it around. Maybe you just want to swallow and see how it finishes. This is where the proper way to taste wine really becomes a matter of preference.

If you are tasting a lot of wines, you might want to spit. It sounds impolite, but it is all part of wine tasting. If no spittoon or bucket is supplied, this is where the plastic cup comes in. Find one and use it.

If you are at a winery though, remember that their last wine is likely the best wine you will be served. Most people will be flattered if you say that their last wine, their signature wine, is too good to spit. Especially in French wineries. Many of them really are too good to spit anyway.

If you are with friends having dinner, enjoy it. Who wants to spit out wine when you don't have to!?!

That's it. Still need more. Then check out this video on wine tasting by Gary Vaynerchuck. It was a little slow on my computer, but definitely worth the time. Please note, it will pop up in another window, couldn't get code to embed it. I will work on that.

How To Taste Wine With Gary Vaynerchuk

Hope that helped. If you like this, and would like to learn more about your palate, check out another one of his videos embedded on our site here.

Addicted? He has over 600 videos.

Still need more, join his wine club and tell him I sent you. He does his best to introduce people to new and interesting wines. His goal is to expand people's palates. Oh and I won't get anything for you signing up, but I figure driving someone business, especially in wine, is always a good thing.

Want to go practice your newly acquired wine tasting skills? Check out our tours here.

Also, if you would be interested in a list of places in wine country to taste for free, fill out my survey below. I want to double check with people before I compile a useless list. And, I will be charging for it. Why? I want people that love wine and are going to buy it to go to these wineries.

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N. California Wineries That Offer Free Tastings?
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I Think I'll Pass

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Return fromTasting Wine to Wine For Beginners Homepage
Go To Our Wine Tasting Cheat Sheet

Go To Our Uncorking Wine Page

Go To Our Nose of a Wine Page

Go To Our Types of Wine Glasses Page

Go To Our Fool Proof Wine Values Page

Go To Our Wine Bars Page