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The Step-by-Step Guide to Wine Tasting Like a Pro

Category: Majestic Guides

The Step-by-Step Guide to Wine Tasting like a Pro


In Short:
Wine tasting is not just for the professionals. It can be a fun way for any wine lover to fully appreciate the contents of their glass – and to figure out likes and dislikes. Learn the essentials in this simple guide: from examining a wine’s appearance to recognising complex aromas and flavours, you’ll gain confidence and enhance your tasting experiences. The sommelier who pours your next bottle of wine will be impressed.

Is glassware important for wine tasting?

The shape of a wine glass can certainly influence your tasting experience. It impacts the intensity of aromas, with narrower openings concentrating aromas, enabling better appreciation of the wine's nuances. Additionally, the glass shape affects aeration, determining how quickly the wine aerates and releases its flavours. Temperature is also influenced; larger bowls may warm the wine faster with hand heat, while smaller bowls help preserve the wine's temperature. Furthermore, the glass directs the wine to different parts of the mouth, influencing taste perception and texture.

For example, red wine glasses typically have larger bowls and wider openings, enhancing aeration and flavour for red wines, while white wine glasses feature smaller bowls to preserve delicate aromas and maintain cooler temperatures. Using appropriate glassware enhances the tasting experience by accentuating a wine's unique characteristics.

How to taste wine

Before you begin, give your glass a quick polish with a clean tea-towel to remove any residue that could affect the wine's aroma and taste, and ensure you have the best visibility of the wine’s appearance. To discover the aromas, flavours and everything else in your chosen bottle, our resident expert and Master of Wine Elizabeth Kelly offers the following advice:

1. The Colour
“Firstly, tilt your glass so the edge of the wine approaches the rim. Doing so can give you an idea of its age.” What you’re looking for: “For white wines the depth of colour tends to deepen with age. A pale lemon white wine suggests the wine is young and fresh. A wine with more depth of colour, perhaps turning golden, could point to oak or bottle ageing. Some red wines are naturally very pale due to the skins of the grape, like Pinot Noir. Others have thicker skins and are darker, like Cabernet Sauvignon. Very young red wines tend to be quite purple in colour, becoming more garnet as they age.”

2. The Nose
“You can get as much – and some argue more – from the scent of the wine as you can the taste. I like to swirl it around the glass to allow in some air and show more of its character.” What you’re looking for: “I get a good idea of the fruit flavours from the grape and also the effects of the winemaker and ageing – think cedar, cream, vanilla and sweet spices. If you find several of these, it’s a more complex wine. Generally speaking, what you’ll smell is similar to what you’re likely to taste once you take a sip.”

3. The Taste
“This is the part that might look strange to any onlookers. Begin by again swirling the wine around the glass to open up the flavours. I then take a sip, spread it across my mouth and suck some air through my teeth, making a gentle slurping sound. This makes the flavours and body (how full it feels in your mouth) a lot easier to notice.” What you’re looking for: “The same rules on natural grape flavours and the effects of winemaking decisions and maturation apply here, and also where you’ll get an idea of three additional important features”:

Sweetness: “Many confuse the ripe fruit flavours you get in wine with sugar, but the majority of the wines we drink are dry. If there’s sugar left on your tongue once you’ve swallowed the wine, it’s either off-dry, medium-sweet or sweet.”

Acidity: “This word may sound a bit clinical, but this is what makes a wine all the more refreshing. The more a wine makes your mouth water, the higher the acidity.”

Tannin: “This usually only applies to red wines. It’s the effects of grape skins, stems and oak that causes a drying sensation in the mouth. Similar to the effect you might get from tea.”

4. The Finish
“This is the amount of time the flavour stays in your mouth after you’ve swallowed the wine. A wine with a short finish will be hard to trace after a few seconds. If it hangs around for 20 or 30 seconds, or even longer, it’s likely to be exceptional.”

5. Judging the Wine
“I look for intensity of aromas, an array of different flavours (complexity), a long finish and a great balance of acidity, tannin and alcohol when deciding whether to buy a wine. Above all, it comes down to your personal preference. The more you taste, the more you'll understand what you like – and equally importantly – dislike when exploring the world of wine.”


What is a Blind Tasting?

A blind tasting is a wine tasting carried out without knowing the identity of the wines being sampled. This is typically achieved by covering the bottles with professional blind tasting bottle sleeves, or simply achieved at home with tin foil or small carrier bags with an elastic band or hair tie around each bottle neck. The practice allows participants to assess wines objectively, relying solely on their senses of smell and taste to evaluate characteristics – without any influence from preconceived notions or brand biases.

Organising a blind tasting with fellow wine-loving friends can be lots of fun – as well as educational. To begin, select a variety of wines from different regions or grape varietals to showcase diversity. Consider themes like Old World vs. New World, or perhaps a single grape varietal to make it even more interesting. Encourage each participant to bring a bottle, ensuring a wide range of options.

Tasting your selection blind will add an element of mystery and challenge. Without visual cues, the exercise will sharpen your sensory perception and invite plenty of debate amongst your group as to what each wine could be!

To make it worthwhile, you could offer pens and paper for everyone to record tasting notes and preferences. Another top tip is to provide palate cleansers like water and unsalted crackers between each bottle tasting. The practice is certain to give you and your friends a deeper appreciation for wine.


Food and Wine Pairing Tips

If you’re really set to impress, pairing food with wine enhances both the flavours of the meal and the wine. When done well, it brings out the best in each, making them taste even better together. It's like a perfect match that makes your dining experience more enjoyable and balanced. Plus, it shows how versatile wines can be with different kinds of food.

Match Body with Body: You’ll have heard about ‘red with beef’ and ‘white with fish’ but it’s more helpful to think about the body or ‘weight’ of your dish instead. Bigger-bodied wines go better with bigger-bodied foods. Steak is hefty – so a rich Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon could be perfect. Likewise, delicate fish goes better with something light, like a Pinot Gris or Muscadet.

Consider How it’s Cooked: Gently steamed or poached foods – whether chicken, fish or vegetable – suit lighter wines, like unoaked Chenin Blanc or Fiano, which won’t overpower them. Meanwhile, full-flavoured roasted or grilled dishes, such as a leg of lamb, can stand up to a bold red.

Balance Tannin and Acidity with Fat: Hefty red wines from warm-climate wine regions have lots of tannin, so they suit foods that are high in protein and fat, like steak. But high-fat foods like cheese or cream can also go well with zippy white wines. Like Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay. The acidity cuts through the fat to create a balanced feel.

Pair Salty with Sweet: Salty food, like cheese or nuts, are often good with a sweet wine, which offsets them. If you’re pairing a wine with dessert, choose a sticky wine that’s at least as sweet or the wine might taste bitter. An off-dry Riesling or even a sweeter sparkling wine are great choices.

Break the Rules: Ultimately, the only thing that matters when pairing food and wine is that you like how it all tastes together. If you enjoy drinking Shiraz with fish and chips or Sauvignon Blanc with beef, then go for it!

Still not sure where to start? All of our stores run regular wine tasting events led by our friendly, WSET-accredited colleagues: from back-to-basic style Introduction to Wine tastings to more creative, themed Discovery events. Every store also has a Tasting Counter with a selection of team-favourites open every day. Contact your local store to find out more or book a ticket. Happy tasting!