Whether you’re at a winery in Napa or Tuscany, you’ll likely find yourself surrounded by oenophiles sniffing, swirling and tilting — a ritual that looks truly bizarre to wine-tasting beginners. Don’t get found out as a newbie in the tasting room though. During your stay at The Orchard at The Carneros Inn in Northern California Wine Country or at Castello di Casole in the heart of Tuscany, follow these easy steps to taste vino like a pro!
Cleanse the Palate — The food you’ve eaten prior to tasting wine has a big influence over how you perceive the flavor. Don’t be tempted by meats and cheeses that may be circulating. Most tasting rooms will offer water and white bread or crackers. These will give you a neutral reference point to base the flavor of each wine on.
Look — Wine tasting begins with the eyes. No, this won’t tell you anything about the taste but it will help you determine a number of the wine’s qualities. You’re looking at the hue, intensity of color and opacity of color. For example a young pinot grigio will be light and nearly clear while an older one will be more golden. Hold the glass to the light for a better look. It takes lots of experience to
know the meaning of what you’re seeing but just observe and absorb the information. It’s a learning process.
Swirl — There are two techniques. One is to swirl mid-air using the wrist. The easier way is to grab the bottom of the glass on a flat table and swirl for 10 to 12 seconds. This isn’t just a move to make you look cool. Swirling increases the surface area exposed to air and vaporizes some of the alcohol releasing more of the wine’s aroma.
Smell — What we taste is heavily influence by our sense of smell. Dip your nose into the glass (yes, into the glass) and inhale deeply. What do you smell? Feel free to cheat using the wine’s description. Give the glass another quick swirl and smell again to see if you can discern the scents in the description. Again, this takes practice but give it a shot.
Taste — There are three elements to look for here. The attack phrase is the initial impression, the evolution phase is how the wine actually tastes on your tongue and the finish is the taste in your mouth after you’ve swallowed. Pay attention to each one. Try at least two sips. If you’re tasting for fun then definitely swallow and enjoy. If you’re working hard to learn about wine then you might want to use the designated containers for spitting so that your buzz doesn’t influence your tasting.
Record — You’ll taste so many wines on a trip to Tuscany that the only way to keep them straight is to take notes. There are plenty of tasting apps or else go old school with a leather-bound journal.