When I hear the words "wine tasting," my mouth waters, my nose twitches, and I acquire the look of a dog who knows he's about to be walked. It's one of my favorite things to do, primarily because it gratifies so many senses.
For those that are new to this eminently satisfying activity, don't worry about arcane jargon or the relative merits of recent vintages. As you become a more experienced taster, you'll acquire more knowledge, but there is no need to torture yourself in an attempt to impress anyone. This is supposed to be fun. Remember these three tips, and you'll be fine.
A flight of red wines lined up for a Burgundy tasting. — Photo courtesy of e_calamar
1. Don't be intimidated - No one is going to be grading you on the accuracy of your wine descriptors, so there is no need to be intimidated by the tasting process. Just follow a few simple rules.
One, hold your glass by the stem, not the bowl. This is so you don't raise the temperature of the wine. Wine snobs will look down their well-trained noses at you if you break this rule, and justifiably so. Respect the wine.
Two, follow this progression: look, smell, swirl, smell, taste, spit. Again, it isn't necessary to make learned comments about viscosity or rim variation, or discourse eloquently on the duration or complexity of the wine's finish. The true joy of wine tasting is in the deliberation and intentionality of the process. Wine is something to be savored. Take your time, and enjoy every step.
2. Light to heavy - When tasting wines, it's always a good idea to progress from lighter white wines to the heavier reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. This is to protect your palate. It's difficult to appreciate the flinty minerality of a fine Riesling when your tongue is purple, and you feel as if you've inhaled a blackberry bush. Gradually work your way up from white to red, light to heavy, dry to sweet.
3. Use the spit bucket - I know, it seems crazy to spit out perfectly good wine, but if you're going to be tasting multiple wines, it's a great idea to get acquainted with the spit bucket. Wine tasting is not about getting buzzed, it's about the sensory experience, and the best way to maximize sensory perception is by keeping a clear head. You'll want to remember what you've tasted, and be able to differentiate the individual qualities of each wine.
If you find a wine you particularly like, buy a bottle and take it home. If you love it, buy a case. Don't worry about ratings or expert opinions. Always buy what you like. That's the most important tip of all.