With maybe two to three ounces of wine in my glass, the first thing I do is tip my glass about 45 degrees and look at it from the top down, ideally against a white background. Looking at the wine like this can tell me a lot. For example, if it’s a red wine I’m noticing if it’s a light garnet color like a grenache or nebbiolo, or a deep ruby like a cabernet sauvignon or malbec. One way to see the body of the wine is to look through it, while the glass is at 45 degrees try to read any wording on the white background. You can easily read through lighter wines like pinot noir and grenache, fuller body wines like cabernet sauvignon and syrah are more opaque.
I like to swirl the wine pretty vigorously in the glass to aerate it, then immediately take a few quick sniffs. I get my nose all the way in the glass, touching the rim against my nose and chin. I’m first noticing if it has a strong fruit note up front, or more of a mineral or non-fruit note. This can tell me if I’m holding a younger vs. older wine, or a new world vs. and old world wine. These notes can be easy initial indicators of what varietal it might be and where it comes from. I try and remember the notes I’m smelling, I’m gonna use these to compare what I’m about to taste in a few seconds.
I take one good sip of wine, not enough to completely fill my mouth, but enough to swirl around, almost like mouthwash. Before I swallow, I usually slurp in just a bit of air, like you would if drinking through a straw, this helps further aerate the wine and taste it a bit better. Now swallow, immediately I’m looking for primary and secondary notes, are they fruit or mineral, berries or stone fruit, stone-like or barnyard-like. I’m also comparing these notes to what I smelled previously, are they the same or different? Sometimes a wine can taste nothing like it smells, and that can tell you a lot about the varietal and where it’s from.
This is where I’m noticing the way the wine feels after swallowing it, is it short lived and unmemorable, or does it have a long finish with a lot of tannins? Of course there’s numerous things a wine can do in the finish, and all of them have to do with the varietal and the way the winemaker treated the wine during aging, but adding those nuances to the previous steps gives me an overall picture about what the wine has to offer. This is where you can take some guesses on what the wine is if you’re doing a blind taste, or take a picture of the bottle because you liked it so much and want more of it.