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Wine Tasting Etiquette

the glassware

A good all purpose wine glass should have four important characteristics:

  • It should have a clear bowl, so that you get a good look at the wine’s color.
  • It should also have a long stem, so that the warmth from your hand does not heat the wine.
  • The glass should also have a thin rim, to make sipping easy.
  • Finally, the glass should have enough capacity, to provide room to swirl the wine.

There are subtle differences between glasses used for red wine and white wine. A traditional red wine glass has a bowl wide enough so that it may be coddled in the hand, allowing the wine to be subtly warmed by your palm.  This large bowl also allows you to swirl the wine and sample the bouquet, which is concentrated around the rim of the glass.

White wine glasses have a longer stem and more slender globe than red wine glasses. The longer stem keeps your fingers away from glass so that the wine stays as cool as possible. The slender globe helps maintain the wine’s liveliness.

Champagne and other sparkling wines are served in glasses called “flutes” that have a narrow shape which helps preserve bubbles and direct them up the glass.

Port is served in a small, slim tapered glass. While smaller than a wine glass, this glass is still large enough to swirl the port. Sherry is served in an even smaller narrow, tapered glass.

Full-bodied red wines with heavier tannins are often served in a glass or crystal decanter. A decanter is a cylindrical vessel with a wide, flat bottom and narrow spout.  Pouring wine into a decanter prior to serving helps expose the wine to air. This is known as “letting the wine breathe.”  Decanting also helps remove any sediment that may have been in the bottle.

wine tasting process

Once it is poured into the proper glass, it’s time to evaluate and enjoy the wine. Evaluating wine involves four basic steps – looking, swirling, smelling, and tasting.

Step #1 – Look. Begin by holding the wine glass up against a white background, such as a napkin or table cloth, to evaluate its color and clarity. Red wines should range in color from deep purple to brick red. Red wines generally fade in color with age. White wines should range in color from lemon gold to golden amber. White wines usually darken with age. If the wine is discolored or cloudy, the wine may be bad.

Step #2 – Swirl. Swirl the wine in your glass to aerate it and release its aroma.

Step #3 – Smell. To properly smell your wine, put your nose in the glass and take a deep breath. Pay attention to what the wine smells like. Older wines should have subtler aromas than younger ones. Is the wine fruity, if so, what fruit does is smell like. Is it earthy or spicy?

Step #4 – Taste. To taste the wine, fill your mouth about ½ full and subtly swish the wine around. Moving the wine in your mouth should release its aroma and coat your mouth. Think about how the wine’s aroma. Does tasting the wine confirm your interpretation of the wine’s bouquet.

wine flaws

When evaluating wine, you should look for flaws that might make the wine undrinkable. These flaws could be the result of problems in bottling, transporting, or storing the wine.

  • A wine is said to be “corked” if it smells like wet cardboard or a musty basement. If you find that the wine has this smell, the cork has been tainted.  Two (2) to seven (7) percent of wines may be “corked”.
  • If the wine tastes dull or cooked, it may have oxidized. The wine might smell or taste like vinegar or be discolored.
  • Another flaw occurs when yeast from the grapes used in the winemaking process infiltrates the wine. If it has, your wine may smell like decay.
  • If your wine is brown or smells like it has been cooked, it may have been exposed to too much heat at some point. The cork may also be pushed up a little in a bottle that has received too much heat.

- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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