What happens at a wine tasting?

The first step of tasting a wine does not involve tasting it at all! You want to notice the color of the wine when you tilt your glass. The glass is tilted to allow you to see the wine from its lightest, or thinnest, point to its deepest.

Next (still no tasting), you swirl the wine inside the glass and coat the sides. Notice how quickly, or how slowly, the wine filters down after you stop swirling. As the wine travels down the sides of the glass in rivulets (called “legs”) you get a sense of the wine’s texture.

You then bring the glass to your nose (nope, no tasting yet) and inhale the aroma of the wine deeply. Notice the first scent that is apparent to you.

NOW, take a drink of the wine let it slosh around to bring the wine to all parts of your mouth and over your tongue. Allow yourself to experience all of the taste sensations. A technique useful in intensifying flavor for “interpreting” the wine is to open your mouth slightly with the wine still in it and breathe air in.

For the last impression, take notice of is how long the flavor of the wine stays in your mouth. This is referred to as the "finish" of the wine.

If you’re planning your own tasting at home, here are a few good ideas for variations:

• A Horizontal Tasting - different wines of the same vintage, or year, are tasted. This is a good way of determining which producer or vineyard you prefer.

A Vertical Tasting - the same wine from different vintages, or years. This is where vintage variations and the effects of bottle aging are clearly seen. An example would be to compare a 1997 Pinot Noir to a 2004 Pinot Noir from the same winery.

Disguise the bottles and have the tasters guess the variety (for reds: cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, zinfandel, shiraz, merlot, etc.) based on the aroma, color, and taste of the wine.

Compare the wines of one variety and region against wines of the same variety, but different region. (For example: Bordeaux from France compared to the Cabernets of California or a Shiraz from Australia against a Syrah from Rhone.)

Taste wines of the same variety but varying prices, cover the label, taste, and then see if the reviews reflect the cost of the wine.