Do the hokey pinotkey: wine tasting 101

Wine tasting tips

Wine tasting is just like learning to dance, you have to know the right moves, but it’s more important to be confident with your delivery.

Our suggestion? Fake it till you make it.

For those looking to have their Pinot Noir and drink it too, here are our top tips for wine tasting…

Decant the wine

Decanting your wine is a great way to get the most out of your wine tasting experience.

According to Wine Spectator decanting your wine serves two key purposes, to:

  1. Separate the wine from sediment; and
  2. Aerate a wine.

“It’s fairly safe to assume that a red will have accumulated sediment after five to 10 years in the bottle, even if this can’t be verified visually, and should be decanted,” they write.

By pouring the wine into a larger vessel you will also introduce oxygen, which will “open up” the wine and allow you to better smell and taste its multiple complexities.

However, according to Wine Spectator, there are two schools of thought regarding the oxygenation of wine.

“The question of whether – or how long – to aerate a wine can generate extensive debate among wine professionals. Some feel that an extra boost of oxygen can open up a wine and give it extra life,” they say.

“Others feel that decanting makes a wine fade faster, and that a wine is exposed to plenty of oxygen when you swirl it in your glass.”

The best way to find out if a wine is improved through decanting is to experiment. Which means it’s time to get your decanter out and start tasting.

Stop, look, swill and tilt

Get to know your Pinot Noir by introducing yourself.

Before doing anything, stop, look deep into the glass and then swill to “open up” and further aerate the wine.

Swilling wine allows you to see a multitude of wine expressions, and while (according to Wine Folly) you shouldn’t spend more than “5 seconds on this step”, it’s an important way of picking up key facets, including a wine’s age, vintage, alcohol percentage and variety.

If you want to assess a wine’s clarity, look at it from the side in the light. This way you can tell whether or not it’s murky (which can be caused by fermentation issues), has excess sediment (which often shows its age), or is clear and sparkly bright (which usually means it’s young and ripe for the drinking).

Looking straight ahead, right down into the wine, head on, allows you to see its depth of colour. Colour density is a great way of identifying particular varietals before tasting.

To work out the age and weight of the wine, try tilting the glass so that it thins out toward the rim. If the wine’s colour is pale, almost watery at the edge, it will no doubt be a thin, younger wine.

If the colour looks dark, or has a rusty orange tint at the edge, it will no doubt be an older wine or one that has been over-oxidized.

Look for the legs

Legs are the streaks of wine that slowly glide down the side of your glass after it’s been poured and swilled.

While there are many schools of thought about the importance of the legs or “tears of wine” as the French refer to them, Vinepair say, that at the end of the day the legs “don’t matter”.

“While some people think these legs relate to the quality, sweetness or viscosity of the wine, THEY DO NOT,” Vinepair write.

“In fact, wine legs are just a representation of how much alcohol is in a wine.”

Their advice?

“Just enjoy the wine and the visual!”

Smell and taste

As much as you may want to just get straight to the tasting, it’s important to smell before you dive in.

According to Wine Folly it’s best to “think big” before delving into the small complexities of the wine’s nose (or smell).

“Think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits,” they write.

“Getting too specific or looking for one particular note can lead to frustration.”

They suggest dividing the nose or “aromas” of the wine, into three broad categories for the best outcomes, including:

  1. Grape derived – from the fruit
  2. Yeast derived – from the winemaking process
  3. Oak or bottle derived – from the ageing process

After taking a good whiff, it’s time to taste. Again, this experience can be broken up in to three key categories:

  1. Taste – the general flavour profile of the wine, sweet, savoury, fruity, tart;
  2. Texture – the way the wine feels on your tongue, light, heavy, viscous;
  3. Length – the time it takes for the flavour to dissipate, the palates experience of the wine as it rolls along the tongue from the beginning, to the middle, to the end.

After all of that, The Wine Tasting Network advise that you take note of the wine’s “finish” after you’ve swallowed it.

“The better the wine, the more defined the finish,” they write.

“Good finish will linger on your palate for quite some time and will reflect the flavours of the wine, or have flavours on its own.”

…and that’s what it’s all about!