The Art of Tasting

  • © Atout France/Patrice Thébault

  • © Atout France/Cédric Helsly

The Art of Tasting

Tasting consists of three stages, each revealing different and important information about the wine. At the end of this process, we can judge the quality and typicality of the wine. So as to better understand tasting, the Ecole du Vin (The School of Wine) has selected the essential elements of these three stages and created a simplified list to serve as a guide during tastings.

First stage: looking at the wine

Take the glass by the stem to bring it in front of you, then tilt it towards you at a 45 degree angle, preferably in front of a white background (a tablecloth or napkin), in order to appreciate the nuances of its colour.

First observation, the intensity of the wine.

Some wines are more intense than others; this is easiest to observe in red wines. Unlike with opaque wines, you will be able to see your fingers through a glass which contains a weak intensity wine.  This color intensity depends on a number of factors: grape variety, region of production, vintage, the vinification method, storage, etc. Generally, the younger the wine is, the more intense it will be. Similarly, wines produced in warm regions or during particularly warm years have an intense color.

Second observation, the color of the wine.

The color indicates the evolutionary stage of the wine. As they evolve, white wines change from pale yellow to develop golden shades; rosé wines from a pale pink to develop orange shades; and red wines, which are violet when young, gradually develop ruby, garnet and mahogany shades.  Generally, wines evolve in such different ways that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions after this first stage.

Second stage: smelling the wine

While still holding the stem, bring the glass to your nose and smell the wine once without swirling it; this is the first whiff: it allows you to appreciate the wine's softest or most elusive aromas.

Next, with a simple movement of your hand, swirl the glass in front of you or on the table in counter-clockwise circles. This aerates the wine, thus oxidising it, which releases other stronger aromas.

The first question to ask is does the wine have a particular scent? Remember that all good quality wine should release relatively powerful aromas. These aromas are detected first and foremost by simply smelling the wine then, subsequently, by tasting it.

The personality and quality of wines are linked to their aromas. Remember, these aromas depend on the grape variety (or varieties) used to make the wine, but also on the type of soil in which the vines are planted, the climate, the vintage, the cultivation of the vines, the vinification method and, of course, the storage.

Third stage: tasting the wine

Gently take a small sip, just enough to wet the whole palate (around 10 ml), and keep the wine on the palate.

Once the wine is in your mouth, you can start to different flavors and sensations. The first flavor you may experience is the sweetness. This flavor is tasted on the tip of the tongue, particularly in the case of sweet wines such as Sauternes. It should be noted that although the majority of wines are dry as opposed to sweet, some can nevertheless retain a slight sweetness.

The second flavor, which is tasted on the edges of the tongue, is the acidity. This flavor, which makes us salivate, gives the wine its freshness. All wines have a degree of acidity, which is higher in white wines as well as wines that are produced in cooler climates.

There may be a sensation at the back of the tongue, bringing us to our third flavor. Shocking and almost bitter, it causes a relatively rough sensation on the palate: this is the tannins sensation, whose origin resides in the grape skin, and which is mainly found in red wines. Young wines (1 to 5 years old) are often tannic, but this quality diminishes as the wine ages.

Finally, you experience a voluminous, strong and rich sensation on the palate: this is the consistency of the wine. The consistency of the wine comes from a combination of different elements such as the tannins, the alcohol and the sugar, and gives the wine a more or less rich and distinct "style."

Once these flavors have been detected, the wine also emits other aromas which will subsequently overwhelm the palate: these are the aromatic components which evaporate and float up towards the nasal cavity. At the end of this stage, we try to detect new aromas, in the same way as when we smelled the wine, and refer to the different families of aromas.

When the aromas linger on the palate, we say that the wine is long in the mouth: this is a sign of quality and complexity!