Family and friends get together to celebrate and out comes the wine.  Glasses are filled, a toast is made and down the hatch.  This drinking of wine enhances the enjoyment of the good food, the great company and the festive atmosphere.

Now push the pause button, step back a bit and concentrate totally on the wine.  THIS is wine tasting.  There’s a reason behind the color, smell and taste of wine. Learning how to interpret what your senses are telling you will help build a repertoire of sensory memories – take notes as you analyze. Through wine tasting, we will sharpen our perceptions and learn to recognize each wine’s distinction.

Steps to Tasting

Eliminate Distractions

Since examining the components of the wine requires our full attention, anything that might interfere with this must be avoided.  To enhance tasting acuity, try to get rid of foreign aromas (perfumes, cooking smells, fresh flowers), foreign flavors (gum, mints, even toothpaste), and unless its a tutored tasting, everyone should clam up while others are mulling things over.  Chat afterward so you don’t unknowngly influence another’s opinions.

Take a look…

Don’t swirl just yet.  The first step in tasting a wine is appreciating its appearance.  Examine the clarity and the color.  This will give you clues to its age, and its variety. Whites range from almost clear when young to deep amber when older – unless something has gone wrong. Reds start out purplish when young and migrate to red/brown to almost brick-colored when aged – unless again, something has gone wrong.

Take a sniff…

This step is actually the most important in everything we consume – not just wine. Now, holding the glass by the foot,  we get to swirl the wine GENTLY to allow the scent molecules (esters) to release.  If you’re sometimes clumsy like me, rest the glass on the table or counter for stability.  Just a couple short sniffs is all you need – a deep lungfull will deaden the receptors.  What we’re smelling for is depth, development and possible faults.The Aroma Wheel on the left is an indispensable tool for assisting the novice and expert alike in determining where the wine lies. With a little bit of practice we will be able to recognize the grape, if the wine is old or young and detect more complex and subtle essences.

Take a sip…

And now the moment of truth, the careful sipping and the multitude of things that happen all at once the moment the wine touches the tongue. First to simplify: we can only detect three things when sipping wine: sugar, acid and tannin (and to a lesser extent the alcohol).  Now to complicate things.  in the fist moments the wine touches the palate, does it taste normal or peculiar?  This tells us if the vino is healthy.  If healthy, the next moment is to determine if the basic construction is in balance.  Does the sugar stand out? Or the acidity?  Is one component overpowering the others?

Next is the interpretation of all the above whilst referring to the Aroma Wheel and the Mouthfeel Wheel both shown on the left.  What does the flavor remind you of? Does it taste like wood? To what extremes are these flavors and feelings travelling?  Does the wine feel smooth or harsh? Stinging or velvety?  Does it roll around on the palate lusciously or quickly splosh around in the mouth?  Is there anything that lingers on the tongue?  This finish gives a lasting impression on the finesse of the wine; the longer and more pleasant the finish, the finer the wine.  There are no right or wrong answers when examining a wine as every tasters tastes are unique to that individual – a wine critic is an expert taster; a Sommelier is an expert in the care and keeping.

and lastly…

Take notes…

Jot down EVERYTHING at the exact moment its occurring!  There’s a lot going on right now and to try and remember it all hours later will be next to impossible.  The tasting and examination of lots and lots of wines can be very confusing at times with the brain and palate working overtime!  There are products out there specifically designed for the wine taster.  I’ve designed my own database to keep things organized and to prevent me from duplicating a tasting.

When you think you’re ready to demonstrate your palate prowess, organize a Wine Tasting!!

The Gathering

Planning the perfect wine tasting party can be as complicated or simple as you, the host, would like it.  Two basic ways to structure a tasting are ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’

Horizontal Winetasting

This is, in my opinion the most fun for a wine party. Lots of wines can be sampled that range within the selected features you’d like to explore

H1: Select one variety (Chardonnay) from a similar region (eg: Napa Valley) but all from the same vintage year (eg: 2008)

H2: Select just white (or just red) to better examine the unique characteristics of that one style.  Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio.  They don’t have to be from the same vintner nor eventhe same vintage year – just a different variety of grape.

H3: One grape – Different style.  The best example of this is the Riesling.  Compare each Riesling as it ranges from extra-dry to semi-dry, semi-sweet, Late Harvest and even Icewine.  This concept can also apply to tasting the same style from different wine makers from different viticultural areas.  A dry Riesling from 2009 from Napa Valley, Okanagan Valley, Lake Erie Northshore, Alsace France and Anhalt Germany!

Vertical Winetasting

Just as the word ‘vertical’ implies, this type of tasting structure narrowly focuses on one variety from one winemaker and explores several vintages.  How the Merlot from XYZ Winery has changed from year to year.

Order of Serving

Is considered good wine-tasting form to structure the order in which wines are sampled. This order affects how the next wine reacts on the palate; tasting a dry wine immediately after a sweeter wine will cause the dry wine to taste coarse.

  • dry before sweet
  • white before red
  • young before old
  • low alc before high alc.

What you’ll need

Wine tasting parties should be festive and fun with moments of focus then lighthearted discussion.  Structured, sit-down affairs feel stodgy and stuffy to me, so i usually recommend an unstructured environment.  Guests mingle from wine station to wine station sampling with the same glass rinsing as they go.

A tabletop 'spittoon'. A descreet place to expectorate during a wine tasting party.Supplies

  • Allow at least two glasses per guest
  • Have two or three good corkscrews on hand
  • Pitchers of water for rinsing glasses
  • SPITTOONS!  Guests may not wish to get hammered at these events and it is considered proper practice to expectorate the tasted wine rather than swallow every mouthful.
  • Napkins
  • Palate-cleansing nibbles like fresh crusty plain white bread (baguette is best), or unsalted crackersas a last resort.  Never serve potato chips – the grease from the frying will coat the mouth and interfere with future tasting.
  • Lots of pen and paper so your guests can take notes and compare later.
  • Don’t forget the wine!!  Estimate 20 servings per 75cl bottle.  Keep it in theme and have more on hand than you think you’ll need.  Running out would be unforgivable!


In Ontario at least, the host of the party is responsible for the guests. Should an intoxicated driver causes an accident you can be held liable for not preventing the guest from driving.  Every party that involves the consumption of alcohol must have the essential ground rules of a designated driver, arrangements to accommodate overnight guests, or set something up with your local taxi company. I shouldn’t have to go into huge detail about this but I must be reassured that my dear readers be good hosts and ensure that everyone is safe and gets home to pay the babysitter.


***This multi-part essay is an original composition written from research gained from many sources. A formal bibliography is available upon request.  If you’d like references clarified for any statement presented in this dissertation, email