After so much staring and sniffing, you're probably anxious to finally drink some of your wine, but now is not the time to lose focus. When tasting wine, that first sip is critical. You shouldn't just toss back an entire glass; instead, you need to slowly and carefully take in your first sip of wine in order to appreciate all of its qualities. You also need to sip in just the right way, which means sipping in a manner you aren't at all accustomed to.
While tasting your wine, remember to hold the wine glass by its stem and never by the bowl. Holding a wine glass by the bowl will warm it quickly, raising it to a temperature that is inappropriate for getting the most out of the wine's aromas and flavors.
Here are the first steps for sipping wine:
- Take a small-to-medium sized sip of wine
- Hold the wine in the center of your mouth
- Purse your lips, as if to whistle
- Draw air in across your tongue
- Swish the wine around in your mouth
- Swallow the wine
Drawing air across your tongue, and so across the wine itself, forces the aromatic compounds into the back of your throat and the back of your nasal passages. Swishing the wind around forces it into contact with all the taste buds you have around your tongue. This entire process shouldn't take more than a few seconds, but you don't want to rush it because your brain needs time to process the signals and put them all together.
There are several different components to how taste is registered on your tongue:
- Sweetness registers first, on the tip of the tongue
- Acidity (or sourness) is registered second on the sides of the tongue
- Bitterness is registered last on the back of the tongue
All three of these tastes register separately on different taste buds but are then integrated in the brain again which judges relative levels of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness in the wine. These are combined with the various aromas and all of this is translated into familiar flavors which are used to describe the wine: vanilla, lemon, berry, etc.
How Does Your Wine Feel?
It may sound odd to talk about the feeling of wine because it's just a liquid, and all liquid is wet — right? Not quite. Different wines can produce different feelings in your mouth: smoother, lighter, heavier, coarser, etc. Although this aspect of a wine can be subtle, it can also play an important role in whether a wine goes well with a particular meal. Some foods simply work better with a crisper wine while others work better with a smoother wine.
Acid in the white wines and tannin in red wines are a big component of the feeling of hardness or crispness. Less acid or tannin can make a wine feel rounder and softer.
A combination of the physical feelings, the taste, and the alcohol content of the wine produce what is known as a wine's "body," or the overall impression one has about the wine. All wine takes up the same physical space, but the taste and feeling of some wines give the impression that they are fuller or larger when being drunk.