How to Taste Wine

Often, when I am at a wine tasting, or even out with friends, they ask “How am I supposed to taste the wine?” I suppress the urge to say something silly and tell them to do the “Five S’s” to taste the wine.

The “ Five S’s” are relatively simple: Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish and Spit (or Swallow). By thinking about these five steps, the tasting of wine can become a vastly different experience.

The first “S” is Swirl. Doing this adeptly and not spilling wine everywhere takes some practice. The first few times you try, most likely you will feel a bit awkward, and hope not to toss some wine on whomever you are tasting with (and yes, pretty much everyone has done this, so don’t feel too badly. Just try not to aim for the person wearing white). The proper way to hold a white wine glass is by the stem, as not to heat the wine with your 37,3-degree hand, and red can be held by the bulb of the glass, but again, Red is better at a cooler temperature than what your body emits. The idea of swirling the wine is to move your glass in small clockwise or counterclockwise circles so that the wine moves around in the glass. The reason for doing this is to let the wine come in more contact with the air. By swirling, you initiate more quickly the oxidation process of the wine. Tilt the glass towards you and also away from you and look at the colour of the wine. What do you see? Make a note in your mind about what you see in the colour of the wine.

After swirling the wine around the glass for a few seconds, lift the glass to your nose and smell the wine. This is giving another one of your senses a chance to get in touch with the wine. Think about what you smell when you “sniff” the wine. Take a short sniff and waft the wine vapours into the nose rather then directly holding your nose over the opening of the glass. To help you truly experience the wine you may want to close your eyes to allow you to focus on one or two senses at a time such as taste and smell over the sense of sight. Next you want to try to identify the odour. Does the wine have a fruity smell similar to apples, oranges or grapes? Wines such as Merlots or Cabernet Sauvignon evoke the woody smell of pine or cedar needles. Syrah wines have been known to diffuse a floral or ground black pepper scent; while Chardonnay’s that are aged in oak, can remind one of figs or apples. One can argue that the scent of a wine is purely subjective, but there is often a wide agreement amongst amateurs and experts alike, although impressions differ on some degree. Do you smell “wet dog?” Most likely, a wine that smells like wet dog is bad, and you won’t want to drink it.

Now comes the next “S”: Sipping the wine. Take a little wine in your mouth, and head right into “S” number four: Swish. Let the wine hit all parts of your mouth. What do you taste? Where on your palette do you taste what attributes of the wine? Also, try to let a little air into your mouth while you have the wine on your palate. The tongue has many different areas that are attuned to various types of tastes. Some areas of the tongue are more attuned to salty or sour tastes, while others attuned to sweet tastes. You want to take a sip of the wine and make sure you run it around the tongue to stimulate the many different kinds of taste buds.  Allowing the oxidation process to occur in your mouth can give you a very different perspective on the wine. You will likely make some slurping noises the first time you try this, and possible dribble some on your chin, but after a little practice, you will get the hang of it. Think about how the wine feels in your mouth, what you taste, and any other senses, feelings or emotions you come up with while you are swishing around.

Now comes the deciding moment? Do I Spit or Swallow? If you are tasting a lot of wines, spitting may be the route to go, especially if you are driving. The drunker you are, the harder it is to make a good assessment or comprehensible one for that matter. To each their own, but after spitting or swallowing, think about how long you taste the wine in your mouth. Count how many seconds you still feel the wine, and that is the finish. If you count 10-15 seconds, that is a long finish. If you don’t taste it right after you swallow it, then that wine has a short finish or no finish.

Try to be as descriptive as possible each step of the way while tasting a wine. In doing so, you will start to learn what you like and don’t like in wines, giving you a better chance of getting what you want the next time you are in a store or restaurant.

A degree in Oenology, the science of wine making, is not required in order to understand the art of wine tasting. One need not be confused by the terminology used by professional wine tasters such as: clarity, bouquet, earthy, open, crisp or nostalgic. All that is required is to tune your senses and to become familiar with various definitions and well-known words.

Wine Tasting Etiquette

Learning about wine is a fascinating adventure, full of new flavours, new ideas, and new friends. If you’ve never been to a wine tasting, be aware that a simple set of rules/etiquette apply at most tastings. Familiarizing yourself with this etiquette will help you feel more comfortable.

  • Do not wear perfume or scents while wine touring. Because smell is such an important factor in wine tasting, they will interfere with your ability to appreciate the wines fully.

  • Mints or chewing gum are also not recommended. They will have an undesirable effect on how a wine tastes to you.

  • You will be given a taste of a specific wine, not a full glass. The amount poured in each taste may vary from winery to winery, but will typically be 1-2 ounces. You can spit or pour out any of your wine into a container at the tasting area provided for that purpose.

  • Smoking is unacceptable.

  • You may also choose not to taste a particular wine if your palate is tired. However, the purpose of tasting wines is to expose you to a variety of wines and to a diversity of styles and blends.

  • Bring bottled water and drink it between tasting stops. This will refresh your mouth and taste buds. And hydration helps avoid hangovers.

  • It is perfectly acceptable to skip some of the wines on the tasting list. Some people just want to taste the reds. Some may be interested in tasting only certain varietals of wine.

  • Normally you would not ask for a second taste of one particular wine unless you indicate that you are interested in purchasing the wine.

  • You do not have to drink all the wine in your glass. Toss the unwanted wine in your glass into the dump bucket/spittoon provided for this purpose.

  • Bring a small notebook for tasting notes. You will taste up to two dozen wines during a typical wine tasting tour day. At the end of the day, you may not remember exactly which wine was the one you really liked. It helps to write down your impression of each wine as you taste it. Later, these tasting notes can be a useful reference when purchasing wine at a wine store or ordering wine online.

  • You are not obliged to make wine purchases during your visit.

  • Taste only at the tasting rooms on the visit. Drinking or tasting wine or other alcoholic beverages in the vehicle is not allowed.

  • Courteous wine tasters also do not volunteer their opinions about a wine until other tasters have had a chance to taste the wine.

Would you like to add an extra day to your workshop and go on a wine appreciation adventure?

The price of our Wine Tasting Tours includes the transport, entrance/tasting fees, educational material (tasting sheets etc.), lunch and dinner on the day of the tour, accommodation for the extra night and breakfast the next day (check out time 11h00). The cost amounts to £150 per person per day – some of our guests have asked for two or three extra days to give them the opportunity of exploring neighbouring wine regions. If you would like to know more, or book a wine tasting tour at the beginning or end of your holiday, write to us on or fill in the form below:


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A Reformed MD, assisted by six talented Horses, hosts Workshops and writes Books in the south of France

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