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Getting the Most Out of Your Wine-Tasting Experience

This article was written by Victoria Hittner and was featured in our October issue of Home By Design magazine. To visit the original Home By Design article, click here.

The last whispers of autumn signal the end of the harvest season—and one of the best times to go wine tasting. Late fall brings fewer visitors, golden vistas, and specialty tastings. Never been much of a wine connoisseur? Here are a few basics to help you navigate your trip to sip.

Photography provided by Alessandro Biascioli/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Tasting Room Terms.

Like any industry, oenology (the study of wine and winemaking) has its own vernacular.

sommelier is the trained professional often pouring your wine. As a wine steward, they are your guide to all things vino. Need a tasting recommendation? Curious about the science behind the wine you’re drinking? They’re the experts. A flight is a series of small pours of wine. Sometimes accompanied by tasting notes or food pairings, these two-to three-ounce pours are grouped for a purpose, and usually meant to be sipped in a particular order. Sweet vs. dry wines—what’s the difference? This distinction refers less to the actual taste and more to the wine’s makeup. If a wine has residual sugar after fermentation of less than 1 percent, it is considered a dry wine.

Tannins are compounds found most frequently in red wines. They have a bitter quality and are more noticeable in younger wines. The level of acidity in wine contributes to its tartness. Wines with higher acidity might add a little tingle to your tongue as you’re drinking. ABV is simply the amount of alcohol by volume. The average wine will contain about 11 to 13 percent ABV. A wine’s body can be defined as the way it feels in your mouth after taking a sip. Wines are generally categorized as light-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied. A popular analogy is the weight difference you feel when drinking skim milk, whole milk, or cream.

Sipping Like a Pro.

Walk into a tasting room and you’ll likely see someone engaging in the “5 S’s” of wine tasting: see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor. It may look pretentious, but this five-step process is the gold standard for getting the most out of your wine.

See: The intensity of a wine’s color and opacity can tell you a great deal about its age and style. Here’s a hint: red wines fade in color as they age while white wines intensify. Swirl: Hold your glass by the stem and move your wrist in a circular fashion. This aerates the wine, encouraging the appearance of fragrant compounds. Sniff: Once you’ve swirled, place your nose above or into the glass to get a full smell of the wine’s aroma. Want to get better at identifying scents? Take a sniff and Google a wine aroma wheel. Sip: See if you can parse out primary characteristics (fruity or floral flavors) versus secondary characteristics (fermentation-related flavors like oak, clove, and vanilla). Savor: Now the fun part! Take a moment to enjoy how the wine finishes. How long does the taste linger? Is the aftertaste balanced? Or perhaps most importantly—would you like another sip?

Determining Your Palate.

Don’t know which wines or flight to choose? If you’re new to wine, start with a sweeter white and work your way up to a drier red. Ask your sommelier for suggestions but be ready to share what flavors, foods, and beverages you enjoy. Just remember: Everyone’s palate is different and there is no “right” or “wrong” wine to enjoy. That’s what makes every tasting experience an adventure!

Wine glasses are made to enhance the aroma and flavor of your drinking experience. There are four basic components to every piece of stemware.

Base. The base offers obvious balance and stability to the glass. Stemless wine glasses have a thicker layer of glass beneath the bowl, called a sham, to serve the same function.

Stem. Stemless wine glasses have grown in popularity, but they’re not recommended for an optimum drinking experience. Holding by the stem prevents your body heat from altering the temperature of wine, in addition to keeping any scented lotions and perfumes farther away from your nose.

Bowl. The size and curvature of a glass’s bowl affects the oxidation of your wine as you take a sip. Bold reds require bigger bowls, exposing more wine to the air and reducing the pungency of sulfites. Crisp white wines should be sipped in more narrow glasses, preventing oxidation. Champagne flutes, of course, are the slimmest to keep those bubbles fizzy.

Rim. The shape and width of the rim dictates where wine will hit your tongue. A broader circumference is best for wines with less acidity (like reds), while narrow rims deposit flavors and smells in a more direct manner. The highest quality stemware features thin rims for an uninterrupted transfer from glass to tongue.