Tasting Wine

A discussion with Bill Williamson.

When we remove the pomp and ceremony from the process of tasting wine it seems we are left with just two questions.

  • How should I taste wine?
  • What do I look for while tasting to evaluate the wine?

This section deals with the way I choose to taste wine and what I look for in the wine tasting experience. I hope his method helps you enjoy wine . . .

Step 1. Color

Hold up the glass over a white background to see the color. Yes I know there are books that tell you Merlot should be ruby color while Cabernet should be garnet but what you are really looking for is attractiveness and consistency. Does the color look inviting to you? Is it the same throughout the glass from bottom to top? If it looks like something you might put into your mouth then go to the next step.

Step 2. Aroma

Swirl the wine around in the glass. This will coat the inside of the glass bowl with a thin layer of wine. The alcohol will start to evaporate leaving what is known as "legs". Ignore any advice about what legs mean, just stick your nose into the glass and take three short sniffs. Close your eyes and consider if it smells good or not. Forget about trying to decide if that is blackberry or cassis, licorice or anise, coca or chocolate. That is the work of sommeliers. Through its aroma the wine is conversing with the our emotions. Does it smell like something we might want to taste.

Step 3. Taste

Now we get technical. In bringing the glass to your mouth don't purse your lips as if you are kissing your cousin. Depress your tongue with the outside rim of the glass and ever so slowly pour the wine across the center of your tongue allowing it to run into the sides and back of your mouth while simultaneously breathing in through your nose and mouth. Please be very careful here, your tongue is depressed, you are breathing in and pouring wine into your mouth so take great care to avoid choking.

When the back of you mouth has some wine, detach the glass and close your mouth holding the wine there. Breath out through your nose then inhale again slowly through your nose and mouth as well, if possible. You want to mix the wine in your mouth with some air but try not to make gargling sounds. That too, is the work of sommeliers.

Now swallow the wine. If the exercise has been performed correctly you will notice a slight aerosol feeling in the back of your nose and mouth and the flavor of the wine will be lingering on your senses. There should have been distinct impressions left by this process:

  • The Entry What flavors did the wine show as it entered your mouth?
  • The Center or Mid-Palate What flavors did the wine show in the center of your mouth?
  • The Exit or Back Palate What flavors did the wine show as it exited your mouth?

Step 4. Harmony

Following all this you should be left with a feeling about the wine which I call the "harmony" of the wine. The term harmony means "to fit together, to join" and that is exactly what I mean. How does this wine fit together with you?

Taste is such a personal thing that no one should presume to tell you what you will find in a wine. Nor does to matter that you find the essence of blackberry while someone else says its cherry, who cares? How does this wine make you feel?

Bill's Three Tests

There are three tests to determine if a wine works for you, simple and effective:

  • One: When you have the wine in your mouth do you have the urge to swallow it and add more of the same? This is a clue that it tastes good!

  • Two: When you have food in your mouth and you take the wine as well, does the food taste better? This is a clue that the wine will work with food to reveal its hidden flavors.

  • Three: Does this wine make you feel like you want to share it with someone else you care about? This is a indication that you have identified with the wine and feel it represents a good lifestyle choice for you.

NOTE: Just occasionally you find a wine that soooo goood that you think, "I ain't sharing this wine with anyone" We call that an Icon wine.

Discussion with Bill Williamson

A wine just goes in my mouth, and I just see it - I see it in all three dimensions. The textures. The flavors. The smells . . . Robert Parker

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