By Brittany Galbraith, sommelier, Dedalus Wine Bar, Burlington, Vermont
If you’re new to wine tasting, use this popular, easy-to-follow technique to help you remember the main points: see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor.
Start by pouring about two ounces of wine into a clean wine glass.
*Pro-tip: After pouring, quickly twist the bottle clockwise just before lifting the bottle to catch any drips.
Step 1: See
How: Hold the glass by the stem. Tilt your glass against a white napkin or tablecloth. Check for sediment, observe the richness of the color of the wine and note the streams of liquid moving down the glass, known as legs.
Legs may give clues to the alcohol and sugar content of the wine. Generally speaking, the faster-moving and skinny legs may indicate the wine is light-bodied with lower amounts of alcohol. Sluggish and wider legs may reveal a fuller-bodied and higher-alcohol wine.
Step 2: Swirl
How: Place the glass on a flat surface. Hold the glass by the stem and make quick circular motions for several seconds. If you’re moving the glass properly, this should create a whirlpool-like motion in the glass.
Essentially, the intention behind swirling is to intensify aroma.
Step 3: Smell
How: Tilt the glass toward you, keep your gaze downward and take a series of short sniffs.
If you have difficulty identifying specific aromas, start with broad categories, like “fruit,” and narrow to specifics. For example: “fruit” evolves to “citrus fruits,” which leads to grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange and so on. Move on to other broad categories, such as floral, vegetal, earth and wood. This process is a bit like creating an aroma checklist. Don’t search for aromas that aren’t there. If it doesn’t come to you in a few seconds, move on.
Picking up subtleties takes time. Practice by tasting often and smelling everything from produce at the farmers market to taking notice of aromas while cooking.
Step 4: Sip
How: Take a small sip of wine and move it around your mouth. Then, gently place your upper teeth against your lower lip, and suck air into your mouth. This will make a gargling noise as wine and air swirl together.
Just like swirling the glass, this technique, called aspirating, forces air to charge the wine. This motion helps carry aromas to the back of your mouth, where you can pick up additional aroma and nuances.
In addition to aroma and flavor, we can evaluate other important aspects of the wine:
Acidity causes mouth-watering and a tingling sensation at the sides of the mouth. High-acid wines may be described as juicy, crisp and energetic.
Tannins dry out the palate. Tannins create a mouth-feel that may feel gritty against the gums and roof of the mouth.
Alcohol is felt as heat at the back of the throat and in the chest. If this is out of balance, you might describe the wine as tasting “hot.”
Sweetness, or dryness, is determined by how much residual sugar is in the wine. Sweeter wines will linger on the tongue.
Body refers to the weight we feel on our tongue. It’s easy to compare the body of wine to the weight of milk: comparing skim milk to light-bodied wines, whole milk to medium-bodied wines, and cream to richer, full-bodied wines.
All of these components are related to the grape varietal, where and how the grape was grown as well as how the wine was made.
Step 5: Savor
Ask: Do you like this wine? Is the wine balanced: do all of the components work together or does one stick out from the others? Do the flavors of the wine linger on your tongue or do they fade quickly?
Food Loves Wine: Guidelines for Food-and-Wine Pairings
Acidity Loves Acidity: Foods high in acid, like citrus fruits and tomato-based sauces, need wines with equal or greater amounts of acidity. If the food is more acidic than the wine, the wine may appear flabby or lack-luster.
Like: Goat cheese with dry rosé or citrus salad with sauvignon blanc
Fat Loves Acidity: Fatty and oily foods work well with higher-acid white and red wines. The mouth-watering acidity cuts through rich foods. These wines will act as a palate cleanser, getting you ready for the next bite.
Like: Bacon-wrapped pork loin with late harvest Riesling or grilled salmon with pinot noir
Fat Loves Tannin: Foods rich in fat and protein complement wines with tannin. If you have ever added cream to tea, you’ve experienced this pairing. The protein in the milk-product binds to the tannin in the tea, which softens the bitterness of the tea.
Like: Grilled steak skewers with Shiraz or burgers with Côte-du-Rhone
Heat Loves Sweet: If you like a bit of spice in your food, choose a wine with some residual sugar and low tannin. Stay away from wines with a high-alcohol content and bubbles; these wines will accentuate the heat of the spice causing a burning and bitter sensation.
Like: Popcorn and Champagne — you won’t regret it!
Sweet Loves Sweet: Sweetness in food can make a dry wine seem more astringent, heighten the burning effect of alcohol and alter our perception of fruitiness in the wine. When pairing, the wine should be as sweet or sweeter than the food.
What Grows Together Goes Together: Regional cuisine and local wine tend to complement each other. This is the magic behind oysters and citrus and saline-driven Muscadet, smoked meats and juicy Alsace Pinot Gris, and truffle-scented pizza and earthy Barolo.
Be aware of the intensity of flavor and aromatics in the food. Choose to match this intensity or have fun by following the rule: opposites attract.
Like: Salad Niçoise with rosé from Provence or grilled chicken with Cru Beaujolais, like Fleurie or Morgon.
Brittany Galbraith is a certified sommelier and wine educator at Dedalus Wine Shop, Market & Wine Bar in Burlington, Vermont. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Food Anthropology and is currently working on the WSET Level 4 Diploma.