A Beginner’s Guide to Wine Tasting

If you’d like to know more about wine tasting to enhance your pleasure in drinking wine, then we’ve got you covered.

Our number one rule with wine tasting is very simple: If you enjoy drinking it, then it’s a good wine.

But if you’d like to delve deeper into tasting wine like the professionals, then we’ve uncorked some tips for your drinking pleasure to help you think – and drink – like a true wine connoisseur.

Things to look for in a wine

  • Colour: If you are tasting white wines, it’s good to know that they darken as they grow older, with vintage wines reaching a rich amber hue. Red wines also grow in colour intensity to a deep burgundy. The deeper the colour, the more mature the wine.
  • Grape Variety: Colour is also influenced by the grape variety and the thickness of the skin. Grapes such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon are characterised by their deep purple shades, while the delicate skins of the Pinot Noir grapes create a lighter and brighter red hue. New World wines from locations such as New Zealand, North America and South America tend to be more intense in colour due to the hotter climates than their European siblings.
  • Aroma: The wine tasting experts call it ‘nosing’ the wine – but in layman’s terms it’s simply how the wine smells. With the majority of our sense of taste reliant on the aroma of our food and drink, smell plays an important part in wine tasting. Smoky, or vanilla notes to a wine indicate that it has been fermented in oak barrels. Corked wines tend to present themselves as a musty aroma – so if your wine smells like a damp cellar, it’s best to send it back!
  • Swirl: You may have seen the wine tasting experts swirling a small glass of wine and wondered why they do this. It’s not just for show – the act of swirling the wine in a glass releases the aromas before inhaling. Plus, if the liquid ‘sticks’ to the side of the glass after swirling it’s a sign that higher volumes of alcohol are present.

Sipping the wine

Of course, the best part of wine tasting is actually the drinking of the wine – but there is a process to follow if you want to make the most of your drink and savour the flavours.

You may have been taught that slurping your food and drink is rude – but in the world of wine tasting, it’s totally acceptable. Slurp the wine and swill it around your mouth so that it reaches all your taste buds. Younger wines, especially red ones, can taste almost dry thanks to the tannins in the liquid, while older wines may taste heavier and full-bodied.

Spitting the wine out

The main reason that professional wine tasters spit out their wine is to keep a clear head for the next tasting session! The good news is for amateur wine tasters is that swallowing the wine is completely acceptable – and much more enjoyable!

Tasting order

To gain the maximum from the flavours and aromas during your wine tasting session, arrange the wines in order of maturity. Start with younger wines which tend to be lighter and brighter, before moving on to darker, heavier wines.

Always taste white or rose wines before progressing onto red wines which are more intense on the palette.

Understanding the different types of grapes

It’s thought that there are over 5,000 varieties of grape used to produce wine – here’s our pick of the most popular that you need to know to make you sound like a pro at your wine tasting session.

Sauvignon Blanc

With origins in the Loire and Bordeaux, French Sauvignon has a sharp, dry taste. More recently the grapes have been successfully grown in New Zealand and have a slightly more exotic taste of passionfruit and kiwi.

One to try: Tesco New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – £6.00

Chardonnay

This white grape flourishes in the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France and delivers the flavours of lemon and tart apples. In our opinion, the best Chardonnay is produced in the Pouilly-Fuissé and Montrachet regions.

One to try: Sainsbury’s Pouilly-Fuissé, Taste the Difference – £19.00

Pinot Grigio / Pinot Gris

Pinot Grigio wine is clean, crisp and one of the most popular white wines to enjoy. This intriguing wine ranges in flavour from very dry to honey-sweet, with overtones of pears, peaches and a distinct aroma of white blossom.

One to try: Aldi Specially Selected Alsace Pinot Gris – £7.99

Malbec

Malbec is a famous Argentinian wine, which has also seen success in Australia and Chile, but this full-bodied dark red wine actually originates from Bordeaux. It’s a highly drinkable wine bursting with the flavours of soft damsons and dark berries.

One to try: Fortnum & Mason Argentinian Chakana Malbec – £13.95

Merlot

Another crowd-pleasing wine from Bordeaux, Merlot is a soft, rounded wine with echoes of black fruits and figs. New World Merlot from California and Chile is exceptionally good and definitely one to add to your wine tasting list.

One to try: Casillero del Diablo Merlot – £8.99

Grenache

Grenache grapes are mainly produced in southern France and northern Italy and have a spicy, dark flavour with notes of tart red fruits and black cherries. In mature Grenache wines, you can even taste hints of bitter black olives.

One to try: Grenache Pays d’Oc 2020 – Les Jamelles – £5.50

Enjoy the wine!

Ultimately, wine tasting should be an enjoyable experience, and once you understand a few of the basic principles of the activity and know what to watch out for, you’ll soon grow in confidence and expand your palette.

Our last tip is to always make notes during your tasting session – that way you can keep track of your favourites and make informed decisions about which bottle to try next!