Tasting like a pro

My 3-year-old nephew already knows how to do it. With water, though, no worries. 'Kieke, dreije, ruuke, drinke! in Limburgish,' or in other words, look – swirl – smell – drink. At that last step, it involves hands in the air and cheers. I get it and gladly join in with complete enthusiasm. Better to learn young...

Tasting well is not difficult. And how good you are mostly depends on yourself because you can train yourself in it. So, do it a lot. That's why many professionals spit it out again because it's better for your health. Also, it's handy to consciously experience those last wines, especially if you have a row ready or are at a large tasting event.

So, how do you taste well? Well, just follow these steps every time you drink a glass of (new) wine. Very mindful, this activity. You can label it as 'me-time,' just an idea. Okay, here we go:

 

Look

You can tell a lot from the color. Whether it's a white, red, rosé, orange, or sparkling wine, of course. But also how old the wine is. Do you have a white wine with hints of green? Then it's probably a young, fruity wine. Do you have a white wine that tends towards straw yellow? Then you're dealing with a fuller, more matured wine that may have had some oak aging. A white wine that is amber-colored? Then the wine is oxidatively aged, as you sometimes see in a sherry. For red and rosé, young wines have purple and ruby red. Older wines have more amber/brown at the edge when you tilt the glass. By looking, you can also see if the wine is clear or a bit cloudy. Your wine may have crystals or some sediment: that's harmless for the taste. Also, a piece of cork isn't a problem; you can just fish it out.

 

Swirl + Smell

An important part. First, about that cork: if your wine has cork, it smells like wet cardboard or a damp attic. Not pleasant! This can also happen with a screw cap; it's about a bacterium (called TCA) that can get into the wine through sloppy work. So, it's not about whether there is physical cork in your wine. The bacterium occurs naturally, which is why a wine with a natural cork closure is more likely to have cork taint compared to a wine with a screw cap or 'fake' cork. Does your wine have no cork? Whooehoow! Then we continue with the real sniffing work. It's best to give your wine a swirl in the glass. Not stirring with a spoon. Place the glass on the table, hold it by the stem, and give it a few spins. Then you also know immediately why you never fill a wine glass to the brim. This step is impossible then. By swirling the wine, as it's called, the aromas are released well, and you can then stick your nose in the glass. What do you smell now? Fruit, flowers, woody notes, herbs, nuts... If you find it difficult to recognize aromas, work on your scent memory. Smell as many products as possible: fruit, herbs, flowers. The more you smell and store, the better you will recognize scents. You are building your own library, so to speak. Want to do this thoroughly? Then I can recommend Le Nez du Vin: the 54 most common aromas in a bottle. Nice gift for the holidays, right...? You can also use the aroma wheel below as a guide. You're welcome 😊 In addition to what you smell, you can also smell how strong you smell something. Do you have to make a lot of effort, or do you not even need to swirl to smell something? This is what we call the intensity of the aromas.

 

Taste

The moment you've been waiting for is finally here, the wine goes into your mouth! Before you swallow immediately, let the wine go through your mouth. This allows your taste buds to get used to the wine. Also, the wine warms up slightly, allowing you to taste more. By slurping and letting air into the wine, more flavors and aromas are released. You can now taste the flavors and how strong they are, just like with the aromas. In addition, you taste the acidity. It's not about citrus tones. You perceive acids by swallowing the wine and then waiting. How much saliva forms now? With a lot of saliva, you have a wine with high acidity. If you are unsure how to perceive acidity, bite in a slice of lemon. Swallow and wait, and experience the amount of saliva that is forming in your mouth.

For red and orange wines, you can also perceive tannins. Sometimes they make your lips stick to your gums, in extreme cases. Tannins and acidity in the wine allow the wine to mature in your cellar. You may experience some intense, unripe tannins, or very soft, supple tannins. If you find it difficult to recognize tannin, you can try biting into a grape seed (not pleasant, I know) or putting black tea in your mouth (preferably the leaves or sachet rather than the brewed tea variant for an optimal experience 😊). You will then experience what tannins are and what they do.

And voilà, repeat these steps with every new wine and become a pro at tasting. Don't forget to raise your hands in the air and cheer at the last step for that extra bit of sparkle. The first time might be a bit strange on your own, but the rest of your company will quickly follow. In my experience, that is.

 

Cheers!

 

PS: As I typed, I realized that this blog title in Dutch is also the title of the book by Cees van Casteren (one of the three Masters of Wine in the Netherlands). In English, it is called anyone can taste wine. So, if you want to go into full pro mode, buy the book. It's still on my list, so if you've finished it, I'd love to hear what you think 😉 Cheers!