With the growing popularity of wine tours across the world, more people are getting into drinking wine. But as compared to liquor or even beer, wine is often viewed as a high-brow drink that only the most experienced imbibers can enjoy. This simply isn’t true. Whether you want to enjoy a bottle with friends at home or are thinking of taking a tour through your nearest wine country, learning how to taste wine and discover your favorite varieties is easier than you think.

Wine is about the smell

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First, it’s important to note that, just like with eating food, the smell is a critical component to tasting the full flavors in the wine. You may not know, but 50 percent of taste is determined by what you smell. Without getting too technical, taking the time to smell your wine before you sip it will help you to discover the notes or aromas. Wine tasting allows you to discover three aroma categories.

Primary aromas will focus on floral and fruitiness and allow you to identify the types of grapes being used.  

Secondary aromas pinpoint the production process. These include notes not related to the grapes and can range from leather to creaminess, honey and numerous other flavors.

Tertiary aromas denote the aging process. A wine that’s been exposed to oxidation from barrel aging can include chocolate, coffee and toffee notes. In contrast, bottle-aged wine that hasn’t been oxidized can taste earthy, like vegetables or mushrooms.

So now that you know what to look for, what is the proper way to taste wine?

How to taste wine

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If you’re at a true tasting event, it’s not necessary to pour a full glass. Instead, pour no more than two ounces—as opposed to the standard five-ounce pour.

  1. Look: Start by looking at the wine. Obviously, you know how to visually differentiate between a red and a white or even a blush. But is the wine translucent or is it opaque?
  2. Smell: Swirl the wine in your glass to help release some of those notes. Take a moment to really inhale the wine. It’s common to first only smell a wine scent. But get past this initial reaction and begin to ask yourself questions. Does the wine smell fruity or floral? Is the fruit scent spicy? It’s possible to smell yeast, citrus and even coffee aromas.
  3. Taste: Now’s the time to take a sip! But don’t guzzle. The goal isn’t to get drunk but to really taste the wine. Instead, take a sip and let it work over your tongue so that you don’t just taste it, but also feel it. Is the wine smooth or does it feel thin and dry? Likewise, all wines have a bit of acidity because of the natural fermentation process. But some will be higher in acidity while others might feature a sweeter flavor because of retained sugars from the grapes.      
  4. Think: Now that you’ve looked, smelled and tasted, what did you think? Did you enjoy the acidic or slightly bitter wine, or do you find that you prefer sweeter flavors? It’s okay to reflect, and if you don’t like a particular wine, that’s fine too.

If you’re just sampling one wine, and you like the one you tested, go ahead and pour yourself a five-ounce glass. But if you’re tasting multiple wines, be sure to cleanse your palate between tastings so that flavor profiles don’t become muddled. Common options include fruit, cheese and bread. However, if you’re attempting to perform critical tasting for a review, bread is the recommended option because of their neutral flavor profile.

How do you find a “good” wine?

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First, know that “good” is a relative term. One person might seriously enjoy moscato while others might think it’s too sweet. So, the best way to find a good wine is to pay attention to what you learn from a wine tasting. If there are particular flavors that resonate with you, wines containing those flavor profiles are going to be your “good” wines.

Is there such a thing as a bad wine?

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On the flip side, is there such a thing as a bad wine? It’s possible for a wine to be under or over processed, resulting in a truly bitter, sour or downright disgusting experience. If you’re opening a new bottle and experience any of the following, you might be drinking bad wine:

Smell: A musty or vinegar smell is a key sign that wine has gone bad.

Taste: An overly sweet bottle of red wine that isn’t listed as a port or dessert wine has usually gone bad. Likewise, a wine that tastes like chemicals or has a fizzy texture when it isn’t a sparkling wine should be avoided.

Color: A brownish color in a wine that is traditionally white or red is a sign of spoilage.

Damage: An unopened bottle that has a cork that’s pushed out has overheated and expanded—don’t drink its contents.

So, now that you know how to properly taste wine, it’s time to go out there and put your knowledge to the test. Maybe you’ll find that you love syrahs and malbecs, or you might discover that you’re a “rosé all day” kind of person. Whichever wine tickles your fancy, you’re now armed with the knowledge to make wine tasting less intimidating.