There is an agreed and logical order in which the senses should be brought into play when tasting a wine. Sight, smell and taste each play a vital role in wine tasting.

The clarity, colour and intensity of a wine can suggest much about its smell and taste.

The look

To get an idea of the true colour of a wine, hold the glass at a 45° angle against a plain white background. This will reveal two distinct colours, starting with a darker core of the wine and fading towards to the rim, which allows you to pick up characteristics of individual wines. Never hold a wine glass up to a light to evaluate its colour as the light source will never give you a constant steady light stream needed for an accurate background.

Clarity is vitally important to a wine. If the wine has a cloudy appearance this might suggest that there might be a problem or merely that it was clumsily decanted and the sediment was disturbed.

Each grape variety has distinct colour, depth and hue and the wine they produce will be effected by the wine making process. Red wines get paler as they age and change from purple to ruby then finally to brown with wines with age. White wines range from green to yellow to gold with a paler watery rim, they tend to darken as they age.

Other qualities that can be observed are ‘legs’, the ‘tears’ that are left on the sides of the glass when a wine is swirled. If they are prominent it indicates a high alcohol content or residual sugar.

The nose

The second step and sometimes, overlooked aspect of tasting wine is the smell or ‘nose’ of the wine. As approximately 75% of our sense of taste is said to come from our olfactory nerve (responsible for our sense of smell), many tasters consider the aroma to be the most important quality when judging wine. To increase these aroma, the glass can be swirled to mix in oxygen.

When smelling the wine the first step is to recognise if the wine is ‘clean’ or faulty. Some professional tasters will only give a wine a brief first sniff as the presence of a fault can effect your sense of smell for the next few hours. The most common fault is cork taint (described on our wine faults page) which is estimated to affect approximately 5% of all wines. If the first small sniff has not revealed taint, they will devote more time to the wine’s nose.

The intensity of the aroma can indicate the quality of a wine. A weak aroma might indicate a weak wine. A full deep aroma is always a good sign. Some wines though may need to ‘breathe’ and may completely change after a few hour of opening. A mild aroma, however, does not mean the wine will be poor.

The taste

Finally, it is time to taste the wine. Take a medium-sized sip and while holding the wine in the mouth purse the lips and suck air in and through the wine. This will release all the aromas and flavours held in the wine. Swirling the wine around your mouth will allow you to pick up different flavours on different parts of your tongue.

Many wine drinkers talk about a balanced wine, but what does this mean? It relates to the broad variety of flavours your mouth picks up – sweetness, acidity, tannin, body and alcohol. These all need to work together and compliment each other for a wine to be balanced and appealing. A wine that is out of balance has one overwhelming quality, for instance being too sweet or acidic, so will not taste right and result in a poor wine.

Wine and your mouth

Sweetness is picked up on the tip of your tongue and is the first sensation you notice.

Acidity is picked up on the sides of your tongue and at high levels will make your mouth water. By contrast, a wine with insufficient acidity will taste flabby and lifeless. Many people do not like highly acidic wines, but they are much more palatable when eaten with food (especially fatty foods) and are great ‘food wines’. Tannin has a drying effect on the gums and teeth and is an important quality for red wines that are to be aged.

Body is also known as the whole ‘mouth feel’ of a wine and relates to the weight of the wine in the mouth. If a wine feels more like water in the mouth this will be a light bodied wine. When you have a wine with high alcohol, tannin, flavour and fruit this will be described as a full bodied wine. Medium-bodied wines are somewhere in between, this does not mean they are of mediocre quality.

Alcohol is the hardest quality to detect on the palate and will contribute to the body of the wine. When a wine has high alcohol level it will give you a warming sensation at the back of your mouth or throat.