Tasting & Appreciating Wine

We love our live events for several different reasons, but one of the main reasons is we get to talk to our customers. We get to answer questions, recommend certain bottles and in the end we end up talking about anything and everything. However one question that pops up time and time again is, ‘How do you taste wine’, which may seem like a silly question on the face of it, but in reality it’s anything but. We’ve been asked so many times, we thought it was wise to pen an article explaining how the wine and spirit education trust recommend that you taste and evaluate wine. We have a WSET qualified instructor within the business and the majority of our staff take the intermediate level qualifications with some taking the advanced course.

If you are serious about really tasting the wine and evaluating it, then follow these three simple steps before you get going:

1) Always use a wine glass with a stem, rounded bottom and sides that slope inwards, ISO glasses are perfect.

2) Ensure the room is free from any noticeable odours like perfume, tobacco or food. 

3) Ensure your palate is clean, chew on a piece of bread to remove any lingering flavours.

The tasting experience is largely split into three encounters. The appearance, the nose and the palate.


The Appearance

it’s at this stage that you can usually spot a faulty wine. This can warn us that the wine is past its best, has been stored in incorrect temperatures or there has been a problem with bottling or the closure.  Wines that are faulty will often appear dull with hints of Brown, however a hint of Brown isn’t always a sign of a faulty wine. If for example you’re enjoying a 2003 Gran Reserva that’s spent a lot of time in Oak, you will expect there to be Brown hints. If it’s a 2013 Pinot Noir, the brown hints are a sign of a problem.

If it’s a red wine that you’re trying, take note of the colour. Purple intense colours will indicate youth where as orangey red will indicate age. With white wines if you notice a largely yellow colour with a hint of green, it’s likely a young wine where as a yellow with a hint of range will indicate age. it’s important to note that all wines will appear different depending on the region, storage and wine making technique so not definitive conclusions can be made, but it will give you a good estimate.

The Nose

When you see someone tasting wine and you notice they’re swirling it in the glass, the reason for doing that is to release as many aroma molecules as possible. Most glasses slope inwards because it concentrates the aromas.

If you take a sniff of the wine and all you can smell is a damp cardboard, musty smell, you know the wine is likely faulty. it will be pungent and unpleasant, they will seem dull and stale.

Some of the aromas you get from a wine can be accurately described. Buttery or vanilla would indicate some use of oak, but it’s very difficult to understand the origin of every aroma and it can be largely subjective. There is nothing wrong with this, but if you hear someone saying they can detect marmalade and toast and you get something completely different, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. We tend to avoid a lot of subjective descriptors.


The Palate

Nothing is more subjective than the palate, and we often say that to one person a wine can be delicious and to another it can taste horrible. We all have different levels of sensitivities to the components in a wine. Different parts of the mouth play different parts in tasting the wine.

Tip of the tongue – Most sensitive to sweetness.

Sides of the tongue – Most sensitive to Acidity

Gums – Most sensitive to Tannins

What are tannins?

Tannins make black tea taste bitter, and they are present in grape skins during the wine-making process. The presence of tannins in a wine will depend on how long the wine has had contact with the skins during the wine-making process. White and Rosé wines receive very little contact so you won’t detect many tannins there. Thick skinned grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon will have higher tannin levels than thin skinned ones like Pinot Noir.

What are people talking about when they say the length of a wine?

This is basically how long a flavour lingers in the mouth after the wine has been swallowed. A long, complex finish will indicate quality, and you expect to see this in a lot of Bordeaux wine, and if you’ve paid a premium for a wine, you’d expect it to have a long, nice finish.

What is the Balance of a wine?

Any one characteristic can make the wine unpleasant. it can be too sickly, too sweet, too harsh. This all results in the wine having too much sweetness or too much acidity or tannin. The balance is about getting it right between the fruitiness and sweetness and the tannin and acidity.

At the end of the day, everyone has their preference. Some will enjoy the complexity of the wine, some will enjoy a straight forward flavour profile. Some will enjoy a nice fruity number, another prefers a sweet wine. Some people enjoy the feel and flavour of acidity and tannin and some people don’t. The only way to find out is to sample and enjoy.



Virgin Wines

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  1. Mike Cope


    There is a ‘typo’ in the section on Tannins. “black team” should read “Black Tea”.

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