In all honesty, most people don't know much about wine — other than the fact that it's delicious (this is completely okay). The most important things to consider when trying a wine are appearance, smell and taste. A really good wine will score strongly in all three of these categories. Here’s a crash course.
When looking at a wine, there are two things you should focus on: color and clarity.
Before sipping, tilt it up in front of the light and look at the color. Color indicates the age and freshness of the wine. White wines have a greenish tinge when they’re very young.
A brownish hue could indicate the wine is very old or hasn’t been stored properly. Red wines are usually purple when they’re young, and mature to a deep ruby red color. Reds usually taste better with age, so a reddish-orange or mahogany color isn’t necessarily bad.
To assess clarity, hold the glass up and look at it from the side. There shouldn’t be any floating particles. A good wine will be completely clear from any particles or cloudiness. Swishing the wine around in the glass is a good way to look at the “body.” Heavier-bodied wines will form “legs” when it flows down the side of the glass, and light-bodied wines will not stick to the glass at all.
The smell is the next most important thing to consider. First, swirl the wine around in the glass (this releases all the aromas). Then take a long sniff. The aroma is the basic smell of the wine, and the bouquet comes from the aging of the wine and the barrel in which it’s stored.
You might commonly hear the terms “woody” (scent of wood), “spicy” (spicy or peppery scent), “vinegary” (smells like vinegar, which is bad), “metallic” (means the wine has been contaminated, which is bad) and “fruity” (the scent of ripe fruit, berries).
Ah, now the part you’ve all been waiting for. First, take a small sip, making sure it touches every part of your tongue and mouth. (Hint: Breathing in helps release the flavors.) Because different parts of your tongue detect different flavors, swirl it around a bit before swallowing it. Exhale slowly to experience the wine’s “finish,” which is the lingering taste and aroma.
Want more about wine? Check out our roundup of local wineries.