Once you’ve looked at your wine, swirled it briefly, and smelled it, it’s finally time to taste the wine. For many people, this is the highlight of the entire wine tasting experience, and for good reason. This is the moment when you can fully appreciate the winemaking expertise and approach that went into each wine.
The first thing to keep in mind is that sipping wine is unlike sipping other liquids. Your goal, first and foremost, should be to let the wine sit in the mouth. This enables the wine to hit all the tastebuds in your mouth. You can also begin to develop a sense of the “mouthfeel” of the wine, which is all about its texture. Does the wine feel velvety smooth? Or not?
As an alternative approach, you can swirl the wine in your mouth, much like a mouthwash. This ensures that the wine hits all of the tastebuds in your mouth, but it might be harder to detect the true mouthfeel of the wine.
Another factor to keep in mind is whether or not the wine feels like it is drying out your mouth. The stronger this sensation is, the higher in tannins the wine must be. If tasting red wines, for example, you will notice that heavier, bolder red wines are almost always higher in tannins than lighter red wines. This has to do with the underlying properties of the grape varieties being used in making the wine. For that reason, some blended red wines will specifically include certain red grape varieties to reduce the number of tannins – with the result that the wine feels smoother and easier to drink.
Of course, you have two options when sipping a wine. If you taste a large number of wines at one time, you can simply spit out the wine and then cleanse your palate, so that you are ready for the next wine. Or, if you taste a smaller number of wines – such as a flight of wines (usually 3-4) from a specific geographic region – then you can swallow the wine.
Just remember – the act of swallowing the wine will likely influence how you perceive other wines that follow. In some cases, this is very good – with a flight of wines, for example, it might enable you to pull out the differences in the expression of a grape from different regions or from different winemaker. This is when you can really appreciate winemaking expertise – you can see how a talented winemaker can express a wine very differently, depending on factors like terroir.
Of course, during the entire process of sipping different wines, you should be writing down tasting notes. This is much more effective than trying to remember how a wine tastes from memory. Your tasting notes can be as complex and descriptive as you choose. There is no right answer, but as a minimum, you should differentiate between sweet and dry wines, as well as the primary flavor (usually a type of fruit) that you can distinguish.
Over time, these tasting notes can provide the foundation for exploring wines from new regions around the world. For example, you will be able to see how a Pinot Noir from Oregon differs from a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, or how a Syrah from France differs from a Shiraz from Australia. With every new tasting, you will develop and round out your tasting knowledge and sophistication.