How to Taste Wine
It will come as no surprise that in the course of our tastings for Barbury Hill, we’ve sampled our fair share of English wine. Learning which are of a standard high enough for our discerning customers has taken practice (it’s a tough job but someone has to do it…) and here we share the tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way.
While it’s tempting to get stuck in straight away, try not to sip the wine first. In fact, before you even pour the wine, make sure your surroundings are set up for the tasting. A white backdrop for the wine, no heavy perfumes, and avoid eating strong-tasting foods beforehand. Then, before diving straight in, take a look first. Consider the colour and depth - is it a garnet or ruby? A purple can indicate youth. A hint of brown in both red and white can demonstrate age. A straw-colour? A barely discernible hint of hay? Check out the legs, they’ll give you a clue to the viscosity. Swirl the glass and see how many legs (droplets) start to run down the glass - the higher the number, the higher the alcohol. A sweeter wine will have legs that run slowly.
Sorry to say, we’re still not tasting the wine - this is a test of willpower, if nothing else! The next step is to smell the wine. Swirl the glass to release the aromas and take a sniff. Is the nose intense or faint? Your description will depend very much on your experience of various scents. Look for notes of fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers in the primary aromas. Leather, bread and oak are examples of tertiary aromas found in aged wines. Are there hints of citrus fruits - grapefruit, lemon and lime, or stone fruits - peach, apricot or nectarine? The more wines you taste, the more you’ll learn to pick out the layered notes and expand your tasting vocabulary.
Finally, the tasting! This can be roughly broken into three categories: Taste, Body and Finish. To begin, take a sip and breath in through the mouth, ensuring all the vapours are carried across the tongue and to the back of the nose. Pay attention to the sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavours. The sour acidity is found in all wines, though more noticeably in those from cool climates. The bitter notes come from tannins found in the grape skins. White and rosé wines have little contact with the skin during the winemaking process, so often have a less bitter flavour than reds.
Tannins can also contribute to the texture or mouthfeel of the wine, adding a dry sensation. The mouthfeel, texture or body comes from the richness, viscosity and weight of a wine, which are created by the alcohol, tannins, flavour compounds and sugar.
The finish refers to the length of time you can taste the wine after it’s been drunk - a longer finish would suggest a wine of a higher quality.
And finally, think. Take a moment to remember the flavours and the impression they, and the mouthfeel, left in your mouth. Were any flavours more dominant in the tasting, and do they remain or has another note come through? Make notes on the wines you’ve tasted so you can compare and contrast, spotting similarities or differences in wines from the same region, or separate regions. Over time you’ll discover your vocabulary widens and in no time at all, you’ll be waxing lyrical about gooseberry notes and baked bread… watch out Oz Clarke!
by Dan Smith, Barbury Hill Founder
Dan founded Barbury Hill and he is the man behind our mission to shine a light on the best of British food and drink. He loves wine, cider and small batch cheese. And every producer on Barbury Hill.