A Brief Summary on How to Taste Wine

  • Wine tasting engages all of your senses.
  • For many people around the world, nothing invigorates the senses more than a great wine.
  • Tasting wine is a concept as old as wine itself and can be both daunting and incredibly fun. 
  • Fortunately, with just a few steps, you can taste wine correctly and get the most out of what’s in your glass.
  • Through tasting, you’ll pick up on subtle aromas, bouquets, grape varieties, and even the winemaker’s own style of winemaking, all by paying attention to what’s in your glass.  
  • Wine tasting requires you to fully appreciate your wine by looking, smelling, tasting, and thinking.

Tasting wine isn’t rocket science, but it does require you to pay attention. From its colors to aromas, you’re going to use all of your senses to pick up as much information from the glass as you can.

To improve your wine tasting skills and knowledge, we’ve provided a simple step-by-step tasting guide below. 

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Taste Wine

Wine tasting starts and ends with selecting the right bottle of wine and the right wine glass. Grab your bottle opener, set up your glasses, open your wine, and start tasting. 

White wine poured next to other glasses during a tasting

Set up Your Wine-Tasting Environment

Wine is a delicate thing and any outside aroma, no matter how good or bad, can ruin your wine tasting experience. Outside odors like gasoline, candles, incense, or any other strong odor will overpower your wine. 

Make sure you don’t wear any fragrances while wine tasting. Cologne, perfume, or essential oils may be good for going out to an elegant event, but for wine tasting, you’re much better without them. 

Look at Your Wine

After you’ve created your perfect, scent-free environment, it’s time to pour your wine in your glass. Only pour a small 2 or 3 ounce amount in your glass. 

Take your wine and hold it out in front of you. Place it in front of a white tablecloth, piece of paper, or any white background to fully see your wine’s color. You can also use your hand. 

Tilt it at a 45-degree angle in front of you and stare through the side of the glass at your wine. Try to describe what color it is, its hue, and its intensity. 

Smell Your Wine

Next, before swirling your glass, take your first deep sniff. Pay attention to any fruit or other aromas that your wine is giving off. 

Do you smell its alcohol, hints of flowers, or something unpleasant like rotten egg shells? It’s during this stage where you’ll immediately know if you like your wine, if it needs to sit in a decanter to breathe, or if it’s simply gone bad.  

Taste Your Wine

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Without swirling your glass, take your first sip. Let the wine coat your mouth. 

Pay attention to how it tastes. Do you taste any sour acidity? Does the wine taste sweet or chalky? 

Swirl Your Glass

Gently hold your glass by the stem and swirl your wine. This moves air over the surface of your wine, which lets all the hidden compounds and gasses come to the surface. 

Woman swirling a glass of white wine

Swirling your wine lets nuanced aromas shine through the glass. After swirling, you can keep swirling throughout the tasting to experience each little change the wine goes through in your glass. 

Smell and Taste Your Wine Again

After you’ve given your wine a gentle swirl, take another deep inhale of its aromas. Do you notice anything different? 

Next, take your second sip. Pay attention to any aromas other than fruit, such as leather, tobacco, mushrooms, or even hard to describe smells like straw hats or forest floor.

This is where wine tasting gets even more exciting. After you’ve let your wine breath and had your first two sips, you’ve got all the information you need to explore what you’re drinking.  

Take Plenty of Notes 

Having a notepad by your side while wine tasting lets you jot down what you’re experiencing. Record everything, no matter how strange it may seem. 

You can compare your notes with other people tasting the same wine. You can also revisit a wine and compare the notes you took at different times. This is a great way to see how much progress you’ve made as a wine taster. 

Keep Tasting

After your first couple of tastes, it’s time to keep going. You may find new aromas in your wine or new ways of describing it. 

Wine tasting is like detective work. Instead of searching for clues at the scene of the crime, you’re hunting for clues that tell you everything there is to know about your wine. 

Like any discipline, wine tasting takes practice. So don’t be afraid to try tasting the same wine repeatedly. You may be surprised by what you find. 

Want to know more? Read our Guide to Wine Tasting Etiquette

Best Tools for Tasting Wine

Before you start tasting wine, you’re going to need a few tools. You need some of these items to taste wine correctly. Others depend on your wine all together. 

man with red wine in a glass outside

Wine Glasses

Other than a bottle of wine, wine glasses are the most important things you need to taste wine. They should be made out of high-quality glass or crystal. 

Depending on the wine you’re tasting, you should be able to choose from a variety of styles. Some wines need big bowls or narrow rims, while others can be enjoyed with any standard glass. 

Bottle Opener

The next must-have addition to your wine tasting setup is your trusty bottle opener. Any standard corkscrew will usually do the trick. 

If you have an aged library wine that’s been sitting in the cellar for a long time, a standard corkscrew may not do the trick. If your cork is crumbly and hard to open, reach for a butler’s friend. This handy little tool uses two prongs that wedge between the bottleneck and the cork, allowing your old cork to slide out easily. 

Decanter

Decanters are great tools that help some wines open up and express themselves. They also let you remove sediment that often builds up in old red wine. 

Decanters come in several styles, but they typically have a wide base and narrow neck. This allows maximum aeration for your wine, which lets the lesser desired aromas and compounds evaporate while leaving the wine’s delicious aromas behind. 

Ice Bucket

If you’re tasting a white wine, champagne, or a rose, you’re going to want to keep your bottle nice and chilled throughout your tasting. To do this, nothing works better than a bucket of ice water. 

Stainless steel buckets work the best because they trap in the cold and won’t rust. Just fill your bucket halfway with ice and cold water and place your wine bottle inside. You’ll notice that within 15 minutes it will be perfectly chilled. 

Best Glasses for Tasting Wine

To get your wine’s complex aromas and bouquet to dance in your mouth, you’re going to need to choose the right wine glass. Certain types of wine glasses enhance your tasting experience more effectively than others. 

You can technically drink wine out of whatever vessel you want. However, nothing beats a wine glass for getting the most out of your wine. 

Each style of wine benefits from being served out of its own preferred style of glass. Below are a few wine styles and the types of glasses that suit them well. 

Red wine in wine glass

White Wine

White wines are best served in smaller bowled glasses. These glasses help preserve the wine’s floral aromas and let the acidity in the wine shine. 

White wine glasses also help keep your white wine cool. There are many types of white wine glasses to choose from, so have fun and find what you like the most. 

Red Wine

Glasses for red wines help open them up and let the bitterness of tannins or spicy flavors evaporate in the air. This leaves you with a smoother tasting wine.

Red wines taste smoother and more expressive when you serve them in glasses with wide openings. Depending on your preferences and the type of wine you’re tasting, you may want to invest in several styles, from wide-rimmed Burgundy glasses to sturdy Bordeaux glasses. 

For instance, an official Port glass, renowned for its small size and narrow mouth, is indispensable for reducing evaporation, particularly suitable for high alcohol wines like Port.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines, such as champagnes or cava, have tight bubbles and racy aromas. These wines generally prefer narrower glasses that trap their effervescence. 

Some sparkling wine glasses are wide-rimmed, such as coupes. Others, like flutes, are narrow and elegant. Which one you choose depends on your personal preference. 

Dessert Wines

Dessert wine glasses include port glasses and narrow glasses that are perfect for delicious and aromatic ice wine and Sauternes. No matter what sweet wine you’re tasting, there’s a special glass for you. 

Why Wine Tasting so Fun

No matter if you’re a wine professional or a novice, tasting wine is one of the most fun things you can do that uses all of your senses. You’ll be able to pick out all kinds of nuanced aromas and flavors. Not to mention, you’ll learn a lot about your wine, its grape variety or blend, and the style it was made. 

In the end, you’ll discover all kinds of beautiful things in your wine. So invite some friends, grab your favorite bottle of wine and your favorite wine glasses, and start your wine tasting journey. 

woman smelling a glass of red wine