Updated: Jan 8, 2022
What’s that hissing sound? It could be me repeating the tasting mantra of the 6 S’s - See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savory and Share.
There are many approaches to tasting wines, and many are extremely rigorous. Wine tasting can be an exacting process, but we’re just here to explore and have fun so I'm providing a simple starting point. Let’s get started.
1. See - Can you see flavors?
Yes, it seems that the eyes play a much bigger role in taste than previously thought according to research from Cornell University. In an experiment, Sauvignon Blanc was colored with red food dye and tasters picked up typical red wine flavors.
So use your eyes first to learn a bit about the wine you will be tasting. Hold your glass against a white or neutral background. Look at the wine glass from different angles - top down and from the side give you a sense of concentration and clarity. Some people will tip the glass downward to see the color at the edges. This can give you clues as to how the wine is aging.
The color in wine comes primarily from contact with the grape skins, the darker and richer the color, the longer the contact in both white and red wines. That can give you a sense of what to expect in aromas and flavors as skin contact influences wine flavor.
2. Swirl - Round and round it goes
Don’t just jam your nose into the glass, give your wine glass a good swirl first. And to avoid dousing your dinner companions it helps to place the base on the table. By swirling the wine you are facilitating the evaporation of alcohol which will carry with it the various aromas in the wine.
3. Sniff - What's the smell of happy?
You already know that taste is dominated by smell, as much as 80% according to some experts. Take your time with this step. And don’t try to get it all at once. You’ll get your initial impression, so let that sink in. Take a breath and go back to see if you pick up other aromas, Wines have primary, secondary and tertiary aromas that all contribute to that wine’s unique profile. We talk more about wine aromas in our blog post “Why it doesn’t just smell like grapes”
Plus it's kind of fun to share what you’re getting from the wine with your friends. There’s no exclusive profile, because we all perceive aromas differently.
4. Sip - Man that took a while
You’re thinking if this is wine drinking, I’m going back to cocktails before I die of thirst. See, swirl and sniff don’t have to take that long. Just think of them as the set up to sip. They’re getting you ready to understand what you’re about to taste.
The sip is kind of like dancing - we don’t really want to be judgy - so just get your groove on. Some people roll the wine around the mouth gently and we’ve seen some people thrash it around like mouthwash. To each their own I guess.
Since we tend to experience the basic tastes - salt, sweet, sour, bitter and savory - in different areas of the tongue, the point here is to make sure to capture the full taste of the wine by exposing it to all your taste buds.
Just don’t blast it through your mouth like an express train, give yourself a chance to catch the flavors. You might notice that some people open their mouth slightly or suck in a little bit of air as they’re tasting? They’re engaging that sense of smell as they taste. Aromas are also perceived while the wine is in the mouth through the retro nasal passage.
Generally, I avoid this technique for fear of making funny sounds or dribbling. But you’re probably more coordinated than I am and some people say it makes a big difference.
5. Savor - Why we do this
Wine isn’t a one and done thing. Each sip will reveal more about the wine, and the wine will reveal more about itself over time. Enjoy, this is what we’re doing this for. We know it's easy to forget when we’re talking, laughing, eating - just enjoying it all. But let a sip linger every so often. See if you notice something new and if the wine’s aromas and flavors change as it has more time to breathe. Notice how it pairs with food. That’s a whole other area to explore.
6. Share - It's more fun that way
Wine is a sharing thing. It’s just better in company, whether it's the focus of the event or simply an accompaniment. That’s why I added this to my personal tasting approach. Sharing the good stuff - it just makes life better.
There are some tasting regimes that have introduced another S into the process - Spit.
We don’t talk to those people.