Is all that swirling, sniffing and spitting that goes on during wine tasting really necessary!!? cleanskins.com recently surfed the web looking for some tasting guidelines and found a great site at www.imagesoffoodandwine.co.uk

We've adapted the following tips on tasting:

  • Don't fill the glass for tasting because you need to leave room for the swirling: about a third of a glass should be enough.
  • Hold the glass up to the light to see if it is clear or cloudy. Does it contain sediment or any other solid matter? When the wine is older, in the case of red wines, it tends to be a deep red colour.
  • Swirl the glass gently to activate the aromatic particles so that when you move on the sniffing of the wine you will appreciate it fully.
  • Tilt the glass towards your face and put your nose inside the glass. You should bend your head slightly forward and tip the glass to a 45 degree angle.
  • Now inhale gently for about 4 seconds bearing in mind that the scent from the wine may vary during one sniff.

People often wonder why wine experts pull funny faces when taking a mouthful but there is a very important reason for doing this. After taking a mouthful they try to spread the wine around all the different areas of the mouth. At the tip of the tongue are the detectors for sweetness, in the middle is saltiness, at the sides acidity and sourness are detected and at the very back of the tongue there are sensors that detect bitterness, so make sure you get a big enough mouthful the coat your whole mouth.

Another tip to maximise the flavour of the wine is to take in air while it's in your mouth. It is only necessary to have a tiny opening at the side of your mouth and to suck in immediately as you are taking a drink of wine. After this breath downwards through your nose to intensify the sensation.

The following terms may seem fanciful at first, but with practice and the right tasting techniques, you should be able to start picking them out from the taste of the wines.

Wine Tasting Terms

Berries

The unique fruit smell of grape varieties is often used to define the aroma or taste of wine i.e. warm berries is a certain giveaway of Zinfandel.

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrant is the aroma of Cabernet Sauvignon, called cassis in French.

Blueberries

A deep rich blueberry like fruit flavour present in the wine.

Buttery

Buttery is a term that describes the richness and colour acquired by mature Chardonnay, traditionally associated with Mersault.

Chocolaty

A flavour found in sweeter style red wines in Australia and South Africa.

Cigar Box

This is a term to describe a smell of a wine that is synonymous with Cedar wood.

Figs

A distinctive smell often associated with ripe deep flavoured reds and sometimes found in Sémillon.

Flinty

Term usually applied to dry whites, especially of the Chablis type.

Flowery

An attractive scent reminiscent of flowers. 'Floral' and 'fragrant' are similar words of approval often applied to pleasing young white wines, especially rieslings.

Fruity

A wine with lots of appealing sometimes quite sweet fruit flavours and aromas

Gamey

Wines that smell pungent in a ripe animal sense, such as a bold gamey Shiraz.

Gooseberries

A sharp "green" smell often associated with Sauvignon Blanc, especially from New Zealand.

Grapey

A wine that smells of grapes, usually Muscaty.

Grassy

An herbaceous green taste usually used found in white wines (see Herbaceous).

Herbaceous

An aroma related to vegetative or grassy characters. Some reds, notably under-ripe cabernet sauvignon, and some whites (sauvignon blanc, for example), are sometimes described as being 'herbaceous'.

Herby

Herby is the smell of herbs, ie Thyme, Lavender or mint.

Lanolin

Lanolin is a rich, almost lemony flavour/aroma that is taken on by good quality desert wines (Sauternes).

Licorice

The distinctive taste/smell of Licorice in a wine, often associated with red Burgundies.

Metallic

Describes a taste noticeable in strong reds that cannot be described otherwise.

Minty

This is the smell of spearmint - never peppermint flavour in a wine often found in California Cabernets.

Mulberries

The distinctive smell of mulberries is often associated with rich ripe Shiraz grapes.

Peachy

The distinctive smell/taste of peaches often associated with Viognier and Riesling.

Peppery

A not entirely unpleasant spicy characteristic sometimes found in young red wines (especially shiraz wines) and ports. Rather raw, biting, and reminiscent of black pepper.

Plummy

The very rich flavours of a ripe Merlot are often described as plummy.

Spicey

Some white varieties (particularly Gewürztraminer) have a noticeable floral spicy smell (like lychees), while some reds particularly Merlot have a fruity sort of spice.

Vanilla

Vanilla is a term that is the self-explanatory flavour which is associated with American oak.

Violets

The smell of the violet flowers often associated with Pinot Noir.