Relax: It’s just a wine tasting!
So you’re at a fancy restaurant, you’ve ordered wine. Now, you’re nervously watching your server approaching with the bottle in his hand, for your tasting ritual. Do you have to smell it first? Or maybe give it a swirl? Will the waiter spit in your starter if you send it back?
Here’s the good news
Wine tasting is not as complicated as it is made out to be. The waiter or sommelier will present the wine bottle to you for inspection, to make sure it is the one you ordered. This is the time to spot that mistake, not after the bottle is opened.
Uncorking the cork
Your server will open the bottle at your table, pull off the cork and hand it to you for inspection. All you have to do is put it down and out of the way. You might be able to get a hint of the wine’s condition if the cork is soft, crumbly, wet or smells funny. But you’ll learn nothing here that you can’t by just sniffing and tasting the wine.
The waiter will then pour some wine into your glass. Here’s what you need to do in 4 quick and easy steps
Check out the colour, opaqueness and the thickness of the liquid. Don’t spend more than 5 seconds on this step. A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance, but most of the answers can be found on the bottle (i.e. vintage, alcohol %, grape variety). Time to move onto the next step!
If you’re interested in some extra knowledge, a red or white wine that is pale or translucent is lighter in all of its characteristics – more delicate aroma, light flavour, an easy presence in the mouth.
In contrast, a white wine that shows deeper golden hues or a red wine with deep purple opaque notes will have a stronger, more assertive aroma and flavour and a tenacious, more powerful presence in the mouth. These are the essential differences between light and full bodied wines. When it comes to sparkling wine, you want an enormous quantity of tiny bubbles that exhibit real persistence, and is called perlage.
The swirl allows the wine to breathe and release the flavours. It develops the aroma and allows you to have a better smell. Worried it’ll spill over? The trick is to leave the glass flat on the table, hold the stem between your fingers and move the glass in a vigorous circle.
50% of taste comes from the smell, and you’ll be largely satisfied by smelling a wine before you drink it. Don’t bury your nose inside the glass. Instead, take quick, short sniffs. There are really only two ways it can be reject-worthy: if it is oxidized, or it is corked. If it is oxidized, it will have a spoiled, flat, prune juice-like smell. It may also appear cloudy, have a chemical-like odour, or taste like vinegar. A wine with cork taint will have musty or funky smells. It’s not tough, you’ll be able to smell it from a mile away.
If the smell is off, this is your chance to return it guilt-free – not after half the table has had a glass!
It’s finally time to taste! Firstly, eat something and then cleanse your mouth with some water to avoid wrong judgement
Take a sip, not a gulp of the wine into your mouth and suck on it as if pulling it through a straw. This aerates it and circulates it throughout your mouth.
Again, you’ll encounter a wide range of fruit, flower, herb, mineral, barrel and other flavours. If you like it, great! But if you don’t… explain this to the waiter and ask him to suggest something else. You can also ask the waiter to taste it himself if you find it strange or corked
Sometimes that first sip is a bit harsh, especially if you haven’t eaten anything, so take another sip if you need to.
You’ve mastered the art!
The purpose of the ritual isn’t to embarrass you or show you up as a non-expert, it’s really all just tradition, based on giving you the finest experience.