There re basically two types of wine tasting: when you are presented a wine you ordered in a restaurant, and when you are at a wine tasting event or festival. The difference is that in the first case, you are basically just checking the wine is okay prior to enjoying the whole bottle with your dinner and your guests. In the second case, the tasting is the experience, and you may be tasting several or many wines at one occasion.
When a waiter presents a wine bottle for your approval, what is the process and what are you expected to do?
Step One: Look at the bottle
Is this the wine and vintage you had ordered. Its possible the restaurant selected the wrong bottle for the waiter to serve, and if so, this is your chance to point that out. If not, the waiter will uncork the bottle, and pour a sample into one glass, typically that of the man in a couple, or the person who order the wine in a group. That person may also designate another for the tasting if that wine is not their strong suit.
Step Two: Taste the wine
The premise here is that most wines are stored properly, but occasionally a bottle "goes bad" and has either gone to vinegar when air has penetrated the cork, or has another undesirable and unexpected taste, like soap or chemicals from the bottle cleaning during the wine bottling process. If that happens you may decline the wine and the waiter will bring another.
Events for the purpose of wine tasting can takes several forms. Some restaurants or wineries may offer wine tastings with a theme and offer samples several wines (typically called a "flight") to taste, compare and contrast.
Sometimes there is a festival sponsored by a community, and industry group, or an event promoter which offer a number of wines by a number of wineries or vendors, sometimes in a single location, or sometimes a few at each of several participating wineries or restaurants in a community or along a specified route. In this latter case you are typically tasting not drinking the wines, to enable you to enjoy all the wines without reducing your sensory ability to do so (by get intoxicated in the process), and also to ensure you are not legally impaired for your drive home or to the next tasting venue (smart festivals these days arrange transportation or shuttles if multiple venues are involved).
When sampling wines, you typically evaluate wines by experiencing them through your senses of sight, smell, touch, as well as taste. Everyone's senses and taste is unique, so there are no "right" or "wrong" results.
One clear wine glass, so you can see the contents without obstruction. A wine glass narrows gently toward the top, to let you swirl the wine without spilling and so that the aromas get funneled to your nose. The shape of the glass differs for different types of wine to optimize the aromas.
Getting Started: Pouring the Wine
Pour a little wine into your glass. Typically, when drinking wine, it is poured to the widest part of the glass, but for an extensive wine tasting, typically just the flattest part of the bottom is covered. In both cases, the idea is to get the most surface area (and therefore aromas) for the volume poured.
If you are tasting several wines, begin with the lightest white wines first and progress to the heaviest red wines. This will help keep your taste buds more sensitive so you can better appreciate each wine in the series. A sip of water between wines can also help preserve your palate.
You should hold a wine glass by the stem, to reduce heat transfer which will warm the wine above its optimal temperature. Even a room temperature red will be warmed dramatically by your body temperature.
Step Two: Evaluate the Appearance
Look at the wine - in daylight if possible, against a good light if you are indoors. You want to look at the colour, and see if the wine is clear or cloudy. Red wines vary in colour, and newer wines typical start with a raspberry-red colour, and become more brick-red as they age. White wines range from pale green to pale yellow to deep golden brown, and become more golden as they age. Dessert wines and ice wines, especially those that have been in oak barrels, tend to be golden.
Step Two: Swirl the Wine
While firmly holding the stem of the wine glass, gently swirl the glass in tiny circles for 10 to 20 seconds allowing oxygen to penetrate the wine. Keep the glass level while swirling, and the wine will climb the glass, aerating the wine while releasing its aromas. Some wine will coat the sides of the glass, to release its bouquet. You may see streaks of wine (called "legs") as its rolls back down the side of the glass. These help you determine the body of the wine (or viscosity, for those scientifically inclined).
Step Three: Smell or Sniff the Wine
Tip the glass so you can stick your nose over the top and inhale. Some tasters prefer to hold their nose an inch (2.5 dm) above the glass after swirling, while others will put their nose all the way into the glass. Try both approaches to see what works best for you.
There is no proper sniffing technique. Some wine tasters prefer to quickly inhale 2 or 3 times, while others prefer one deep sniff.
Try to detect the full range of scents in the wine, from berry to floral to spicy to woody. Try to describe them in terms of other smells you are familiar with. Consider their intensity and appeal.
Also, your nose tires very quickly. Even "off-smells" may not register after a number of sniffs. You may need to smell or taste something other than one to re-set you sense of smell. Many wine tastings offer a bowl of coffee beans to smell or a plate of bread and cheese.
Step Four: Smell or Sip and Taste the Wine
The final step, after you've interpreted the wine with your other senses, is to sip the wine. Let the wine spread across the tongue from front to back and side to side, before swallowing. Some wine tasters like to slurp some air through puckered lips to further aerate the wine and release more aromas and flavour.
Step Five: Finish the Wine
You can either spit it out (especially if you are tasting several -or several dozen-wines) or simply drink it. Either way, experience the aftertaste (the "finish") of the wine on your tongue.
Professional wine tasters will not swallow the wine, but immediately spit it out (there should be buckets for this purpose) because they want to experience as many wines as possible, not get "sloshed" as quickly as possible. Pace yourself!!