People ask, quite often, “What is the best way to taste wine?”. My method of tasting has developed over the years and is now a firm system in place. Whenever I’m tasting technically, I smell in three different ways (always in the same order) and then I taste in two ways (again, in the same order).
Because I hold the belief that taste is a very personal thing, I encourage people to develop their own way of tasting. Work on it. Try to find out which ways of smelling, and tasting work for you and then stick to it. A consistent technique will allow for a fair assessment of each wine you taste.
First look at the color. Describe it as best you can. Then swirl your glass to release the scent and smell. Finally, take a sip, aerate it over your palate and either spit, or swallow. Consider what you see, smell, taste and feel.
If you’re truly interested in learning about wine, keep notes. I am so privileged to taste the number and quality of wines that I do, that I think it’s a bit of an insult not to keep track of them. Of course, I need notes to refer back to when I’m ordering for the bar, because there’s no way I could remember all the subtle nuance that each wine offers. Be bold. Write down what you smell. Your nose is your own and because of the nature of our olfactory apparatus, you can’t be wrong. Someone can say that you’re wrong, but you’re not.
I first began to take notes in the early 1980’s. At that time my notes almost always read, “notes of black licorice”. Seriously, in nearly every red wine, that’s what I got. I just didn’t know enough to be embarrassed about that and as time went on I kept taking my notes and developed what I call a scent library.
How does a person develop a scent library? Smell everything. I do. Whenever I cut into fruit or vegetables when I’m cooking, I sniff them, just to refresh my memory. I smell fresh cut branches and wood, flowers and trees. I’ve been known to sniff different soil and yes, even to taste them! I just can’t help myself. I’ve always been enamoured with the way things smell and taste. It’s a magical thing to me, to smell the essence of a thing. It reinforces my connection with nature and with everything around me.
Finally, my best advice is to be generous. Understand that every wine you taste was made by someone who cared about what they were making. In my early days as an importer, we would work at wine shows where the general public could taste our suppliers’ wines. Inevitably, there would be at least one person who would taste a wine and proclaim, “This is crap!” etc. etc. This is when we’d smile and offer them another jewel from our portfolio for them to insult. It’s true. There are entry level, very commercial wines that, to an educated palate, are not very interesting. I liken this attitude to the two kinds of restaurant patrons. There are those that come out to have a good time and taste new things and there are those that come out to pick out ‘what’s wrong’.
I’m a lover of wine. My notes reflect only my opinion of each wine that I taste. I don’t expect for a moment that anyone’s tasting notes would be the same as mine. It’s fun when experiences overlap and we get the same thing out of a wine, but it’s not necessary.
Tasting wine is a privilege. It’s a window into the world of a person who’s passion rests in a specific place, making wine from well loved vines. Those vines reach down into the earth through the layers of history in order for that winemaker to transform their fruit into an elixir that will tell you a very specific story. If you let it.