How to Taste Wine — Outsmarting Wine

by in Drinks, How-to, October 7th, 2011

how to taste wine
“I’m not good at wine,” is the sheepishly exasperated refrain I always hear. “I just don’t get all those things — the plums, the oak, the butter — that stuff experts talk about.”

My response: You’re not alone and frankly I just don’t know how some enthusiasts detect things like tomato leaves, sweaty saddle and other exotica in their fermented grape juice. There are, however, useful descriptors that many experts use, like oaky, crisp and soft, that can help you communicate to store clerks and sommeliers what kind of wine you really like. Here are three ways to build your wine-tasting vocabulary.

Drink Simultaneously: That is, pour two or more tastes and see if you can smell and taste differences between them. In the vernacular of a boozy frat guy, “double-fist” it. This is why wine bars that serve so-called wine flights — a series of tastes at the same time — are invaluable for learning about wine. If you just drink sequentially, as we normally do, it is infinitely more difficult to remember the previous wine and appreciate the differences among the wines.

Peek at the Answers: Like glancing at the answer key of an exam book, it helps to compare your own thoughts with those of an expert, whether it’s written on the wine list, or in a blog, magazine or book. While you may not always agree with their assessment — after all, critiquing wine, like art or music, is largely subjective — you’ll begin to build your own vinous vocabulary.

Practice Makes Perfect: Think of tasting wine as the world’s most enjoyable homework. Like learning a language, the going gets easier when you exercise your skills often and mindfully. But unlike logging hours in a language lab, the longer your bottle-based homework session goes, the finer you will feel.

Every week, Mark Oldman — wine expert, acclaimed author and lead judge of the hit series The Winemakers — shares with readers the basics of wine, while making it fun and practical. In the coming weeks, he’ll tell you what to ask at a wine store, at what temperature to serve it and share his must-have wine tools.

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Comments (5)

  1. @laurabray says:

    Great tips! I have printed them out and will share them with our 10 friends that we're taking on a Texas Hill Country wine tour tomorrow. I'm lucky if I can get "oaky, crisp and soft." Plum, apple, tobacco, etc are completely beyond my palate. I just know what I like…..Alamo A La Carte

  2. Henrietta B. says:

    Your seminar was such a great learning experience. The book "Oldman's Brave New World" is a MUST read. I haven't had a chance to write my review but the seminar has changed the way I feel about wine. Practice does make perfect, I have been doing that a lot lately. Thank you

    • @MarkOldman says:

      You made my day by saying that. I myself am a tough audience, so I always try to lace my seminars, books, and videos with maximally useful suggestions but also stress-relieving and entertaining information – the kind I what I would want to have. Here's to "Drinking Bravely" ; )!

      Mark Oldman

  3. honestwinereviews says:

    Great article! One of the things I also look for is the alcohol content. The way I evaluate it is when I exhale after I swallow. If I feel a bit of a “sting”, it’s usually due to higher than expected alcohol content. The sting may also be noticeable in your nose when you first smell the wine, as well.


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