- Look:Check out the Color and Clarity.Pour a glass of wine into a suitable wine glass. Then take a good look at the wine. Tilt the glass away from you and check out the colorof the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass (it’s helpful to have a white background – either paper, napkin or a white tablecloth).What color is it? Look beyond red, white or blush. If it’s a red wine is the color maroon, purple, ruby, garnet, red, brick or even brownish? If it’s a white wine is it clear, pale yellow, straw-like, light green, golden, amber or brown in appearance?
- Still Looking. Move on to the wine’s opacity. Is the wine watery or dark, translucent or opaque, dull or brilliant, cloudy or clear? Can you see sediment? Tilt your glass a bit, give it a little swirl – look again, is there sediment, bits of cork or any other floaters? An older red wine will often have more orange tinges on the edges of color than younger red wines. Older white wines are darker, than younger white wines when comparing the same varietal at different ages.
- Smell: Our sense of smell is critical in properly analyzing a glass of wine. To get a good impression of your wine’s aroma, swirl your glass for a solid 10-12 seconds (this helps vaporize some of the wine’s alcohol and release more of its natural aromas) and then take a quick whiff to gain a first impression.
- Still Smelling. Now stick your nose down into the glass and take a deep inhale through your nose. What are your second impressions? Do you smell oak, berry, flowers, vanilla or citrus? A wine’s aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again.
- Taste:Finally, take a taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. There are three stages of taste: the Attack phase, the Evolution phase and the Finish.
- The Attack Phase, is the initial impression that the wine makes on your palate. The Attack is comprised of four pieces of the wine puzzle: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual sugar. These four puzzle pieces display initial sensations on the palate. Ideally these components will be well-balanced one piece will not be more prominent than the others. These four pieces do not display a specific flavor per se, they meld together to offer impressions in intensity and complexity, soft or firm, light or heavy, crisp or creamy, sweet or dry, but not necessarily true flavors like fruit or spice.
- The Evolution Phase is next, also called the mid-palate or middle range phase, this is the wine’s actual taste on the palate. In this phase you are looking to discern the flavor profile of the wine. If it’s a red wine you may start noting fruit – berry, plum, prune or fig; perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavor like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness. If you are in the Evolution Phase of a white wine you may taste apple, pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness.
- The Finish is appropriately labeled as the final phase. The wine’s finish is how long the flavor impression lasts after it is swallowed. This is where the wine culminates, where the aftertaste comes into play. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like the weight of water), medium-bodied (similar in weight to milk) or full-bodied (like the consistency of cream)? Can you taste the remnant of the wine on the back of your mouth and throat? Do you want another sip or was the wine too bitter at the end? What was your last flavor impression – fruit, butter, oak? Does the taste persist or is it short-lived?
- After you have taken the time to taste your wine, you might record some of your impressions. Did you like the wine overall? Was it sweet, sour or bitter? How was the wine’s acidity? Was it well balanced? Does it taste better with cheese, bread or a heavy meal? Will you buy it again? If so, jot the wine’s name, producer and vintage year down for future reference.
- Pouring the BeerIf you are pouring the beer yourself from a bottle gently run it down the side of the glass. Judge your pour speed based on the head that is forming. Aim to have about a two finger head when you’re done. Some beers contain visible yeast at the bottom of the bottle that is meant to be drunk with the beer. If this is the case, stop the pour with a bit of beer left in the bottle. Swirl the remaining liquid to lift the yeast sediment and pour it into your glass.
- AppearanceNote whether the head is dense or thin. Heads are sometimes described as rocky if they are especially dense with dips and peaks forming as some of the bubbles pop. The color of the head is also worth noting and can range from pure white on Pilsners to light or medium brown on some stouts and porters.
Examine the appearance of the beer itself. Hold the glass up to the light and note the color and whether it is cloudy or clear.
- AromaNote whether it smells primarily of hops or malt. Generally speaking light colored beers will smell more of hops while darker beers tend to have a pronounced malt, roasted, chocolate or coffee aroma. Many ales have a hard to pin down spiciness or fruitiness from their yeasts.
Take your time with the aroma. Try to take three good sniffs before your first sip. If you’re taking notes, stop to write your impressions before the first sip distracts you.
- First SipWhen taking your first sip, try to note the initial sensation as the beer enters your mouth. Think about whether it is sweet, bitter or something else. Beer, especially ale, can be very complex. There can be quite a difference between the first taste and the finish.
- MouthfeelThis is the texture of the beer or how it physically feels in your mouth. Beer ranges from silky dry stouts, to thick and chewy Scotch ales to thin and fizzy Berliner weisses. This is an important characteristic of a beer.
- FinishNote the lingering flavors after you swallow the drink. Often it can be bitter from the hops or a lingering malty sweetness.
Stop before your next drink and try to write down everything that you just detected. Try to confirm it all with your second drink or see if you need to rethink your conclusions.
- StylesThere is a lot of variation from one beer to the next with regards to what is “correct,” stylistically speaking. For information about style specific issues such as whether the yeast should be poured with the beer or left in the bottle, what color the head should be, whether the beer should appear clear or cloudy, and so on, consult the Beer Styles section or another great resource for beer style information are the Beer Judge Certification Program’s Style Guidelines.
- Do not taste new beers with food or soon after eating. The lingering flavors from food can greatly affect your impression of the brew.
- Cleanse your palate with water. Crackers or cheese are fine but you should remember that even these foods can affect the apparent flavors of the beer.
- If you’re tasting a number of different beers, let the color be your guide. It is best to taste from light to dark.