Wine Tasting - A Guide


The appearance of a wine helps give you a picture of the wine before you have tasted it, however, is not 100% accurate.

Colour and Intensity – There are two methods you can use when thinking about the intensity of the wine.  Hold the wine at the top of the stem, can you see your fingers through the glass, then hold the wine against a white piece of paper. The depth of the meniscus is also an indicator of intensity. 

N.B - hazy wine may indicate a fault.

The colour of a wine is classified into the following:

  • White: Lemon – Lemon/Green – Gold
  • Rose: Pink – Salmon – Orange
  • Red: Purple - Ruby – Garnet

Lighter intensity in a wine may indicate, a thin skinned grape or ageing.  Red wine will normally lighten with age whereas white wine will darken.

N.B - for rose, a lighter wine indicates the length of time the juice has been in contact with the skins.


Certain grapes are more aromatic than others and will therefore be more intense on the nose, e.g. Sauvignon Blanc.

First, smell the wine from decreasing distance from the glass and then give the glass a swirl and repeat the process. You will smell the aromas being released the closer you get and the more vigorously you swirl.

The aroma from smelling a wine can help identify flavours found when tasting the wine.


The profile of a wine is made up of 5 characteristics:

  • Sweetness
  • Acidity
  • Alcohol
  • Tannin
  • Body

Finding the right balance between these 5 characteristics is the key to producing a tasty wine and is the best indication of a quality.

It is important that you use all your mouth and tongue to fully understand the depth of a wine; different parts of the mouth and tongue pick up the different sensations and tastes.

N.B - try and take in some air when tasting and swirl the wine to all parts of the mouth.

Sweetness - is picked up on the tip of the tongue, one way to test for this is to dip your tongue into a glass, if there is a tingle sensation then you know there is some sweetness. Important to remember that even when a wine is “dry” it will still contain some residual sugar. Most wines that we drink are dry.

Range: Dry – Off Dry – Medium – Medium Sweet - Sweet

Acidity – is the sensation of when you mouth waters and is most felt on the side of the tongue.

Range: Low – Medium - High

Alcohol – comes from the conversion by yeast of sugar into ethanol and can be felt as heat, imagine yourself drinking a spirit, that warmth as hit hits the back of your throat. Often when people say that a wine has good legs, it is the alcohol dripping down the glass. A good way of judging the strength of the wine.

Range: Low – Medium – High

Low: below 11% Medium: 11-13.9% High: 14% +

Tannin – this forms the texture of the wine and comes from the seeds, skin, and stalk. Imagine a cup of tea, it is the thing that coats your mouth and cup.  High tannic food can act as pallet cleansers for fatty meats and cheeses, often why they are served with food.

Range: Low – Medium - High

Often tannins will soften overtime, therefore you may choose to age a wine.

Body – is the weight and texture of the wine, an easy way to think about body is to imagine the difference between skimmed and full fat milk.

Range: Light – Medium – Full

Describing aroma and flavour

3 levels of flavour and these help us to identify the grape variety, region, wine making practices, age, ageing potential, and overall quality of the wine.

Primary – flavours of grape and alcohol fermentation

  • Fruit – green, citrus, stone, tropical, red, black and dried
  • Floral, herbaceous and spice

Secondary – develop from what the wine maker does to the wine

  • Yeast – toast, dough
  • MLF – butter
  • Oak – vanilla, smoke, chocolate, cedar

Tertiary – from maturation

  • Oxidation – almond, toffee, caramel
  • Fruit Development – marmalade, dried apricot, cooked plum
  • Bottle Age – Leather, earth, honey

Quality Level – BILC

Determining the quality of a wine is helped using - Balance, Intensity, Length and Complexity

Balance of a wine can be thought of as a set of scales, with fruit and sugar on one side and acidity and tannins on the other e.g. an increase in fruit or sugar can be balanced by an increase in acidity or tannin. But you do not want alcohol to overpowering everything.

Intensity – we want concentration of nice flavours but beyond a certain level, they may become overpowering

Length - The finish is the length of time the sensations stay for.  A lingering of flavour (long) is often an indication of quality whereas if the flavour disappears after a few seconds (short) this may be basic quality wine. You should only count the desirable sensations as you do not want something like bitterness to linger.

Complexity – complex flavours and aromas are desirable. This complexity may come from purely primary aromas or in combination with secondary and tertiary.  however sometimes purity and clarity of expression make a great wine

Range of quality

Faulty – Poor – Acceptable – Good – Very Good – Outstanding

Readiness for drinking.

People often wonder whether they can keep their wine, the characteristics of the wine are the best indicator of this. 

Most supermarket wines (£8 – 15) are drink now but some may benefit from a couple of years ageing. If you spend a considerable amount on a wine, it may be that the wine is “too young”. Often heavy red wines need time for the tannins to soften and the wine to be better balanced.

The first thing to consider is whether the wine was made in a style that would benefit from ageing. If the wine is refreshingly light with mainly primary aromas, it is likely that wine is “Drink now: not suitable for ageing or further ageing”.  If a wine displays predominantly primary flavours and hints of tertiary then it may be that the wine is “Can drink now: potential for further ageing” This only comes from experiencing similar wines

N.B – do not store your wine in the kitchen, wine hates the fluctuation in temperature. Keep somewhere cool and dark.

Tips and Tricks

  • Try the wine whist holding your nose, this will show you the importance of smell with tasting aromas and allow you to concentrate the senses on the 5 characteristics.
  • Try and relate the smell and taste to foods e.g. a fruit salad sweet or a can of Fanta lemon. This will help you pick up the dominate flavours.
  • People have different sensitivity to different sensations and therefore may be able to detect certain characteristics and prefer different types of wine. Always remember – WINE IS SUBJECTIVE

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