A tour of your taste buds: how to sip wine properly
In reference to some of the points I've made in earlier posts, wine is a subjective experience. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. But one universal truth is, you have to understand your own palate. So here's my take on tasting wine objectively to become familiar with what you enjoy or don't enjoy about certain wines. And in turn, allowing you to be able to convey your preferences to the Sommelier or Wine Shop Associate.
Those going through the Court of Master Sommeliers have what we refer to the "tasting grid." While that may be an interesting guide to take a look at and try out, I usually only use it when studying or practicing for tests. When I'm not in the testing mode, I refer to what most call the 5 S's; Sight, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Savor
Sight: What color is the wine? Is it clear or is dark and inky? Does have bubbles? Perhaps it has sediment floating around? Sight can give you hints to the age of the wine, potential grape varieties, amount of alcohol, sugar levels, and even clues to the climate of where it may have come from (warm vs cool climates). As white wine ages, it darkens and becomes more yellow, gold, or brown. As red wine ages, its starts to lose color and comes more transparent.
Swirl: Swirling the wine helps break down (opens) the wine and releases aroma compounds into the glass. As you swirl, you can also begin to see the "legs." Wine "legs" can indicate alcohol or sugar levels. The thicker the legs, it may suggest the wine has more alcohol or residual sugar.
Smell: Take a sniff of the wine. Don't be shy, get your nose in the glass. What do you smell? Think of fruits, what kind of condition are the fruits (stewed, ripe, baked, etc) and non-fruits (earthy, rocky, herbs, etc). A trick I've learned to neutralize your sense of smell is to smell your forearm before you smell the wine. I know...it's a bit peculiar but it works!
Sip: Enjoy a sip of the wine. Make sure you swirl it around in your mouth so it coats your mouth entirely. Again, what flavors do you get? Similar ones to what you found on your nose or do you pick up anything different? Other things of note when sipping wine should be tannins, acidity, body, and alcohol.
Savor: An important part of tasting wine, is the "finish" of the wine. What do you get on the palate after you've already swallowed. What lingers there...? Is it the fruit, non-fruit, or maybe even the alcohol? Does it burn as it goes down or is it nice and smooth?
When you put all these steps together, you can get a holistic picture of the wine itself. And at the end of the day, figure out what you enjoy in wine. Once you start seeing patterns of specific nuances that you enjoy, you can begin putting together what your favorite wines have in similar. Because at the end of the day, the most important thing when it comes to tasting wine is do you like it?