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4 Steps: Wine Tasting

It’s every sophisticated guy’s worst nightmare: He’s on a date having a fancy dinner, he tries to impress his date by ordering what he thinks is a nice bottle of wine, and when the waiter arrives and pours him a small sample, he’s quickly exposed as a fraud. He knows nothing about wine tasting.

There’s no need to fake your way out of this one. Follow these four simple steps to wine tasting and you’ll be sipping it like a pro in no time.

Of course, once you know all there is to know about wine tasting, you’ll understand what makes a good and bad wine, and you’ll get to use your powers for good. Don’t send back any wine just because you don’t like its taste. Rather, send back only the ones that don’t smell right or that taste as though they’ve been hanging around for more than a couple of days.

Step 1: Evaluate its appearance

The first thing a professional wine taster does is check the color of the wine. How a wine looks can say an awful lot about the quality and origin of the drink.

The first thing you want to do when wine tasting is contrast the wine’s color against a white background (the tablecloth or a napkin will do). Tilt your glass slightly and take note of the color and intensity of the wine.

Most red wines that haven’t been aged start as a deep purple color. As red wine ages, it loses that intensity and becomes paler, like a brick color. The color of a red wine will also yield a bit of information about the kind of grape used. Pinot Noir, for example, tends to be paler than most.

The color test also works for white wines, whose colors tend to deepen as they age. Moreover, whites from cooler climates aren’t usually as richly colored as those from warmer climates.

After checking the color, give the wine a quick swirl around the glass to check its legs — the oily film that hangs around the inside of the glass after the wine is swirled. There is some argument that the longer the legs stay on the side of the glass, the better the quality of the bottle. In fact, that’s a myth. Legs are only an indicator of alcohol content – more legs mean more alcohol.

Step 2: Check the bouquet

The next thing to check is the smell of the wine, or its bouquet. Give the wine another gentle swirl around the glass to expose more of it to the air. As the wine settles in the glass, stick your nose into the glass and take a full sniff.

Think about the smells coming up from the glass: Young wines will tend to have fruity smells (notes of raspberry or citrus, for example), while older ones will have more complex fragrances (earthy aromas like oak or grass).

Don’t be shy about smelling it more than once to see if you like what you smell. If you do, chances are that it will be a good bottle.

Step 3: Pay attention to the taste

As you (finally!) begin to taste the wine, be cognizant of the fact that very little of the actual taste of wine comes from the sensation on your tongue. You’ll pick up more flavor from the wine by swishing it around in your mouth and paying special attention to the sensations and tastes in the back of your throat.

When wine tasting, slurp the wine slightly to release all its flavors in your mouth. That’s not to suggest you haul back on it like a 10-year-old eating cereal, but a gentle slurp as you take in the wine will go a long way toward properly enhancing the taste.

As it enters your mouth, think about the weight and body of the wine: Is it rich and heavy or light and thin? Think about the tastes you notice and ask yourself if this bottle will go well with your meal. If your main meal is a perfect steak and the bottle is light and fruity, you may want to consider a different bottle. Be sure to think about how the taste of the wine changes as it warms up in your mouth. All wines take a few moments to fully develop their flavor once they’re out of the bottle, and they will do the same in your mouth.

Step 4: Evaluate the finish of the wine

The finish is the sensation you get from actually swallowing the wine and it can be very different from the taste you get on your palate.

What you want to look for is an alcohol taste (there shouldn’t be one) and the length of time the wine taste stays with you. This length of time is called the finish and some wines can linger for as long as a minute. Also consider the balance of the wine; do any tastes dominate or is this a well-defined bottle?

Generally speaking; the longer the finish, the better the wine.