How simple was it back before you knew how to really enjoy your wine? Like those days back in college, just unscrew the cap (no cork!) pour and drink. For young wine drinkers, everything from inspecting the bottle to swirling, sniffing and tasting can be intimidating when out at a high-end restaurant. It’s not like universities teach proper wine etiquette these days. (By the way, many good wines today have screw top bottles, so don’t take that as a sign of a bad wine).
Here’s a brief guide on how to approach ordering, smelling and tasting your wine.
When presented with a wine bottle at a restaurant, some feel pressured to perform in some way. All you need to is look at the label and ensure the bottle is correct one.
In fancier restaurants, your waiter or sommelier may hand you the cork to inspect. More than anything, it’s a sign of good faith. Most corks have inscriptions or logos, so cork collectors can take them home. Some people smell it for the wine’s aroma on the cork, or to check for mold or crumbling. (If that’s the case, order a different bottle.)
Don’t put it in your mouth. All you’re going to taste is cork. lol
A slight swish will oxidize your wine and release its aromas. You will want to aerate it if the bottle was just opened. Introducing oxygen to the wine changes the flavor profile and helps bring out a lot of the notes.
Now’s also a good time to check the clarity of your wine. Make sure there’s no sediment. Pieces of cork, though, are harmless. If it’s a red wine, look for a bricky, brownish color. That shows its age.
You don’t need to inhale the wine until your nose bleeds, a simple whiff will suffice. It’s OK to just smell grape juice, but you should push yourself to look for anything from cut grass to rosemary. Floral and citrus aromas are common in whites, while reds can have spice or dark fruit flavors. Some wines may taste smoky, earthy, buttery, even musty. The more different wines you taste, the better you’ll be able to identify your preferences and notice different flavors.
Take a sip and swirl it in your mouth. Coat your entire palate with the wine because different parts of your tongue taste different flavors: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and savory. Tannic acid occurs in red wine and comes from the seeds, skin and stems of the grape, creating bitterness.
A high tannic wine will dry out your mouth a little but it gives body and structure to the taste. There aren’t really tannins in white wine because that’s not the nature of the grape. In white wine, you’ll experience more acidity.
If you’re a beginner wine drinker, detecting if a wine has gone bad can be difficult. If you just don’t like it, it’s fine to order something else.
If it tastes like vinegar, it’s gone bad. That’s usually after you’ve opened it. If a case of wine has been sitting out in hot sun, the wine can cook and you’ll notice it tastes a little funky.
After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine’s name, producer and year down for future reference.
Tasting Room Etiquette
Most tasting rooms and wineries won’t even give you enough wine to get much more than a buzz. If on a wine tour, however, things can get messy by your third or fourth stop. Eat as you go and drink water to avoid dehydration. Finish the glass only if you want to.
There’s no right or wrong way to share your impression of a wine. Someone who’s been drinking Riesling for years might need some time before they truly find a Merlot they love.