Whether you’re a long-time wine drinker or just discovering it, wine tasting events are a great opportunity to learn more about wines, discover new grape varietals, and meet other people who are interested in wine.
You no longer have to travel to Napa Valley or Europe to enjoy a wine tasting. Most cities have several inexpensive wine-tasting venues. You can find events by checking at your local wine shop or wine bar. A wine tasting is a great venue to sample new wines without committing to purchasing a full bottle.
Many people are intimated by the idea of going to a wine tasting. They are afraid that they won’t know what to do, that they won’t understand the jargon, or that they won’t get the “right” description for the wines they taste.
This guide should lay some of your fears to rest, and prepare you for your first wine tasting.
There are several different kinds of wine tastings, but they can broadly be broken down into two categories: blind tasting and non-blind tasting. A blind wine tasting means that the labels of the wines have been covered so that the tasters do not know what vineyard (where the grapes are grown) or vintage (when the grapes are grown) they are drinking. In a non-blind test, tasters know what the wines are ahead of time.
For inexperienced wine tasters, non-blind tastings are probably a better experience. Many non-blind tastings are educational. The organizers often showcase wines along a certain theme, for example a particular varietal (for example malbec grapes) or season (summer wines) or region (Argentinean wines). New wine drinkers can ascertain what they like and more experienced tasters can find new wines or broaden their wine tastes.
Many non-blind tastings are organized by wine shops and wine bars. Their purpose, ultimately, is to sell more wine. Often, they offer a discount to tasters at the event. However, tasting a wine does not obligate you to purchase it or any other wines at a wine tasting. If you find something you like though, buying it at the tasting can often save you a little money.
When you arrive at the tasting, the organizer will usually give you a sheet of paper with each wine listed, along with a brief description. Make sure you have a pen along with you, so that you can jot notes along the side of the page. It’s easy to forget what you liked about each wine.
Wine tasting should involve all of your senses. The event usually begins with the organizer describing the theme and pouring a small sample into your glass. A good organizer will describe each wine as it is poured, explaining a little about the wine and how it fits the theme. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you know about the wines, the easier it is to describe to a wine shop owner, server, or bartending what you want in a wine.
Once the wine is poured, first, look at the wine. Think about the color and the depth. Is it very red? Garnet? Clear? Golden? Does it absorb light or does light shine through it? What does it remind you of? Describing wine is a matter of opinion. You and the person standing next to you may not agree at all, and that’s perfectly okay.
Next, you’ll swish the wine around in the glass, being careful not to spill any of it. This “opens” the wine up so that you can experience more of its flavour and texture. It also makes the aroma of the wine (usually called the nose) more discernable.
After you’ve swished the wine in the glass, put your nose down in the glass and smell the wine. What kind of nose does the wine have? Is it aged? The nose on older wines is referred to as the wine’s bouquet. The smell of the wine should give you an expectation about what the wine tastes like. When you taste it, think about whether or not the wine’s smell is an indicator of taste or if it is misleading.
Take a sip of the wine and hold it in your mouth. Carefully open your mouth and suck in a little air around the wine. This may sound like the noise an espresso machine makes. This process opens the wine up further and also opens up your sinuses so that you can taste more of the subtle flavors in the wine.
Follow the sip up with a second, larger drink. Swish the wine around in your mouth and swallow. This will probably use up all of the wine in your tasting glass. Think about the associations that the wine creates for you. Is it bold? Bitter? Sweet? Does it make your mouth feel dry? Many of the terms on wine descriptions come from this actual tasting.
At most tasting of this kind, you do not spit out the wine, instead, you swallow it. Expect to drink the equivalent of two to three glasses of wine at a tasting.
When you swallow, does the wine have much of an aftertaste? The aftertaste is referred to as the wine’s “finish.” Some people like a lot of finish on their wines; others prefer all of the flavor upfront.
There is no wrong answer in what your wine tastes like to you- fruit, grapes, dirt, leather, peaches, meat, or none of these things. The most important question is whether or not you like it. Take your time with each tasting and think about what you like or dislike about it.
You are not required to finish every sample, or even try every wine. If you do not like the wine or do not want to finish your glass, there is a container to pour the rest of the wine into. The organizer will also be using a little wine to rinse your tasting glass between samples, and the rinse will also go into the bucket. It is dumped out at the end of the event.
At the end of the event, you should have your tasting notes to refer back to. If you want, buy some of your favorites. You’ll discover depending on what food you eat them with, how long they’ve been open, and what temperature they are stored at all subtly effect the flavor. You can compare your tastings over time.
Once you have a little experience, you can organize your own tastings at home. Have your friends bring over their favourite wines and compare them.