The art of rating wine is a skill anyone can acquire with a little information and a lot of practice. Whether you will be participating in formal wine tastings or you simply want to understand wine a little better, this is a good place to get started.
There are basically 4 things to notice when rating a wine. They are (in order in which they are to be observed):
The process of rating wine begins with its visual appearance. Unlike beer which has styles that are intended to be cloudy, wine is supposed to be clear. The good news is, with the advance in technology, its extremely rare to come across a wine that is cloudy.
Besides clarity, you also want to take notice of the color. Hold the wine up next to a white background or look at a light through the wine. The color can be an indication of the maturity of the wine.
White wines start off pale and eventually turn more golden yellow as they mature. Red wines on the other hand, usually start off darker and more purplish in color. As they mature, they will become lighter in color and change to more of a brick red color.
A wines aroma is extremely important to its overall taste. Believe it or not, your taste buds are only capable of detecting four distinct tastes. They are sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The receptors for these tastes are located on the areas of the tongue shown in the diagram.
Map of Tongue Receptors
These four taste characteristics combine with the aromatic properties of the wine to result in an overall flavor. The nose can detect literally thousands of aromas which give us a multitude of flavors. Even after the wine is in your mouth, aromatic vapors can be perceived in the retronasal passage in the back of the mouth.
After observing the wines appearance, swirl the wine around in your glass a couple of times. This swirling will intensify the aroma by releasing more of the aromatic vapors into the air.
Now stick your nose actually inside the glass and inhale deeply. Try to detect as many distinct scents as you can. There is no right or wrong, simply think about what the scents remind you of.
Different people will likely smell different things. Its kind of like poetry, where the same words can mean different things to different people. It may be hard to distinguish various scents at first, but with practice, they will be more identifiable.
For now, just observe. Your nose will become desensitized after a short while so give it a break for a few seconds. Sometimes smelling something else will help refresh your nose somewhat and you can tryto smell the wine again.
The Complete Wine Taste & Aroma Kit
This is an excellent way to expedite the sharpening of your wine tasting skills. The method allows you to learn individual tastes and aromas and burn them into your long term memory for when you come across them in a wine.
This can truly take years off of your learning curve and help you to really begin to appreciate the subtle nuances of wine.
As I said earlier, the tongue by itself can only detect four distinct tastes. When combined with aroma, the result is its flavor. I also said that the aromatic vapors can be perceived in the retronasal passage in the back of the mouth.
So in light of this, take a decent sized sip. While sipping, draw in air across the wine to help the vapors reach the back of the mouth. Be careful not to inhale wine into your lungs (embarrassing).
Now act like your chewing the wine, letting it roll around all areas of your tongue. If you will be tasting numerous wines, you dont want to swallow because the alcohol will dull your senses. Simply spit it out.
Aftertaste or Finish
The term aftertaste is not a negative thing like many would believe. An aftertaste can be bad, or it can be good. It all depends on your personal preference.
The aftertaste will magnify the good and the bad qualities a wine will possess. This is the time to reflect and decide for yourself what flavors you detect in the wine. Dont try too hard, let it come naturally.
Even if you’re not particularly fond of the wine, try to determine what flavors don’t appeal to you. The more accurately you can identify what flavors you like and dislike, the more enjoyment you will get from drinking wine.
Now after giving the wine some reflection, write down a few notes rating the wine in words that are meaningful to you. Compile a list of wines and your personal ratings. This will help you remember what the wine tasted like when youre at the store and you looking for a particular bottle.
Have fun, and remember, there is no right or wrong when it comes to rating wine.
One More Thing
Your mind is amazingly adept at being able to smell or taste things you expect to find. Try not to read the tasting notes on the bottle before you taste it yourself. Taste first, then see if your notes match the descriptions on the bottle.
Even better, try blind tasting. Blind tasting can be fun and very effective at sharpening your skills. Have a group of people over with various bottles of a similar color wine (dark reds, whites, etc). Now pour them into glasses and set them on a coaster with the type of wine written on the bottom.
Now shuffle them around so you dont know which wine is which and begin tasting. Try to identify each wine and compare notes with the group.
When you become skilled you can try comparing various wines of the same grape. Practice is the key to rating wine. Have fun!