Whether you’re holding a private tasting with friends, visiting a local vineyard, or taking part in a WSET course to learn more about the world of wine, getting the basics of wine tasting right is an essential starting point. Think of it like a science experiment; once you’ve got the right equipment and a controlled environment, the real creativity and fun can begin!
First, gather your equipment…
Obviously, you’ll need wine glasses - ideally a different glass for each wine you’re trying so you can compare wines and see how they develop over time. You can buy sets of six standardised tasting glasses (including black glasses for blind tastings, which are always fun) but if using your regular glasses simply make sure they are shiny and clean. Any residual smells from new glasses stored in cardboard, or a less-than-sparkling dishwasher, will negatively affect your tasting experience.
Tulip-shaped glasses, which allow for swirling and then release concentrated aromas at the top are the best, and you should avoid stemless glasses so holding them won’t affect the temperature.
You’ll also need a large spittoon or at least somewhere to pour out the wine as you move on to the next glass. However much you enjoy drinking wine, you can’t take part in a serious tasting without spitting all or most of the wines you intend to taste - it allows you to assess what each is like without losing all sensory awareness. Professional wine buyers and critics can taste hundreds of wines in a busy day of industry tastings and will still feel the effects, even if they reach for the spittoon after every sip!
When attending one of our WSET courses, you’ll also be provided with a notebook where you can jot down your impressions of each wine. We usually categorise these impressions into four to give a useful structure and allow comparisons - but more on that in part two of this guide.
Preparing the wine…
Whites should be tasted cold but not too cold, as low temperatures may mask certain characteristics. Reds should be served at room temperature.
You may want to decant some wines before tasting to allow them to breathe, or if you suspect there will be sediment in the bottle.
Think about the order you’ll taste the wines in. The general rule is that lighter wines should come first, followed by oaky or more full-bodied wines. This is so the previous wine tasted is less likely to influence your impressions of the next. Sweet wines are tasted last as they are syrupy and tend to linger.
Bear in mind age though; wines which have been in bottle for a long time are delicate and won’t always benefit from being left in a glass or swirled about excessively before you finally get to appreciate them.
Other things to consider when planning a tasting…
The surrounding environment is important when it comes to wine tasting. Cooking and food odours should definitely be avoided, as this can affect your perception of what’s in the glass.
You’ll also want to be able to assess the colour of the wines clearly - sometimes a blank piece of white paper placed behind the glass is useful for this.
When tasting wine, your palate should be as clean as possible, so avoid eating any strongly flavoured food or drinking coffee before you attempt to discern flavours in a wine. Plain crackers or bread can help cleanse the palate, and make sure you have plenty of water to sip during the tasting to cleanse and hydrate your mouth.
Our WSET courses in Cornwall, delivered through the Cornwall Wine Centre, always begin with a grounding in the basics of how to taste wine properly. Only when you have the right parameters in place can you really learn to appreciate the nuances of the aromas, flavours and textures within the glass.
In our next blog, we’ll be getting to the juicy bit! The stages of tasting and assessing wines, and the conclusions you might take from them. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about wine education in Cornwall and joining one of our WSET courses, click here.