Tasting wine and drinking it are not one and the same. “Drinking” wine brings to mind images of people sitting around a table guzzling glasses of fermented grape juice while eating, talking, and laughing. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. In fact, I find this a highly enjoyable activity. “Tasting” wine, however, requires a little more concentration and analysis. There’s a method to wine tasting that can be broken down into five basic steps, also known as the Five S’s of Wine Tasting: SEE, SWIRL, SMELL, SIP, and SAVOR.

SEE

Start by looking at the color of the wine. The best way to do this is to hold the glass up against a white background. Perhaps a table cloth, napkin, or piece of paper. Observe the outer rim where the wine meets the glass, known as the meniscus. If it’s a white wine, the color can vary between pale yellow or light green to gold or brown. If it’s a red wine, the color can vary between purple or ruby to brick red or brown. You can learn a lot about a wine by its color, such as age, grape variety, and flavor. For example, white wines gain color as they age, whereas red wines lose color. Chardonnay presents a more intense color than Riesling. Darker red wines tend to be much bolder and richer than lighter red wines.

SWIRL

Swirl your wine. You can do this by tilting your glass in the air and slightly rotating your wrist in a circular motion or by placing the base of the glass on a table and moving it around in circles. Swirling the wine helps aerate it. Oxygen is good in the beginning as it causes the wine to “open up,” enhancing the aroma and flavors. However, prolonged exposure to air will cause the wine to become oxidized, resulting in a stale aroma and sour or vinegary taste.

SMELL

After you swirl your wine, stick your nose down into the glass and inhale deeply through your nostrils. Repeat this at least three times. Smelling your wine is the most important part of tasting it. If you’d like to test this then plug your nose and try tasting something. If you can’t smell, you can’t taste. Traditionally, it has been believed the human tongue can sense only four basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Arguably, there is a fifth and even sixth taste. However, either way, it pales in comparison when we consider it is now believed the human nose can detect more than one trillion different scents. The smell of a wine, also known as the “nose,” is an excellent indicator of its quality and characteristics.

SIP

Take a sip of the wine and taste it. Try not to swallow immediately. Instead, let the wine roll around your tongue and pass over all your taste buds. Slurping the wine also can help as it further aerates the wine, helping you to experience more of the flavors. As mentioned previously, the tongue (arguably) can sense only four tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Since wine doesn’t contain any salt, this narrows it down to only three tastes. Sweetness in wine results from residual sugar left over from fermentation and is detected on the tip of the tongue. A sour or tart taste in wine indicates the acidity and is detected on either side of the tongue. The bitter taste in wine, detected on the back of the tongue, is due to tannin. Bitterness also can result from a high alcohol content.

SAVOR

After you’ve tasted the wine, take a moment to savor it. Think about the experience. Evaluate the wine. How is the finish? Was the wine light, medium, or full-bodied? How was the acidity? Was the tannin too strong? Also consider the wine’s balance. Do any tastes dominate or overpower others? More importantly, do you like the wine?

Wine Tasting

Now that you know how to taste, you should have a different image in mind than people sitting back quaffing wine. Instead, think of people swirling, sniffing, sipping and peering into wine glasses while evaluating and describing the nuances of different wines. Next time you have a glass of wine, utilize the 5 S’s of Wine Tasting and try to identify its characteristics. The more you practice, the better you become. Cheers!