Wine Tasting Do’s and Don’ts

Suzanne Sheldon is the Director of Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours, a Sydney based  tour company offering full day tours from Sydney to the Hunter Valley wine region and member of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association. For more information on the tours offered, visit Tastes of the Hunter Wine Tours.


Have you ever experienced this scenario?

There you are tasting wine at a top cellar door with the gorgeous view of endless grape vines disappearing over the horizon for you to feast your eyes on as you peer through the floor to ceiling windows. The lady next to you is raving about the subtle natural fruitiness she can taste and the residual oak flavours present, however all you can taste is an expensive glass of vinegar! Just like a page from the old story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” you agree on how wonderful the wine is (to avoid embarrassment) and quickly move on.

It’s quite normal to dismiss this as a difference of palate and of course everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to our favourite beverages. However a few simple tips can save you from missing out on discovering some incredible gems on the next wine tour you go on. And besides … it would be absolutely criminal to begin your day full of excitement about the wines you are about to taste, only to come home empty handed. Having to visit a bottle shop after a day out at a leading wine region is simply wrong! 

So… what are the Do’s and Don’ts of wine tasting? 

Incase you are new to tasting wine, here are the general rules (and a few of my own personal tips):

Firstly look at the colour and viscosity (this sets the stage in your mind) and aerate (introduce air into) your wine. The best way to do this is to set your glass on a flat bench, grab the stem and make circles with it without leaving the bench. This way you can get a good swirl going without spilling any of the good stuff! I’ve seen many people swirl wildly with their glass in the air only to have to interrupt the process as they are about to lose their wine out the top of their glass! Such a technique will also cater for the most generous tasting portion that fills your glass more than you would normally expect.

Watch the “legs” of the wine (the streaks that trickle down the inside of the glass) as they descend. A slow descent indicates the wine is higher in alcohol content.

Then you are ready to smell your wine. A tasting glass that narrows slightly at the top is perfect for this as it naturally concentrates the scent and enhances the aeration. I like to aerate, sniff, take the glass away and aerate a second time, then sniff again in order to properly take in the aromas because with all wine tasting … the first time only sets the stage in your brain so to speak.

Then you are ready to taste.

I like to take a medium amount of wine into my mouth, hold it there for 1-2 seconds then swallow then take a second similar sized amount relatively soon after. You are truly tasting the wine on the second swallow. 

Do … taste the wine at the correct temperature. Remember a wine fresh from the refrigerator will taste far less acidic than a wine that has spent event 15 minutes on a bench. If you prefer chilled wines that retain that sweeter character it is best to only pour small portions into your glass and return to the fridge for a refill. That same wine may taste completely different after 30 minutes sitting in your glass. Some wines are best consumed at certain temperatures so if it isn’t obvious from the label, asking your friendly cellar door server would be a good idea to ensure you are experiencing your chosen drop exactly how the wine maker envisioned. Never forget that the contents of your glass represent someone’s continuing dream and passion and it’s only fair to experience it the way it was originally meant to be before passing judgement.

Do … ensure you cleanse your palate with water between tasting different wines. It’s also a good way to balance the alcoholic with the non-alcoholic. Especially if you have a wine tasting marathon ahead of you!

Do … take into account what you have eaten before the tasting and what food you are pairing the wine with. If you are embarking on a day of tasting it certainly is a good idea to eat breakfast, however waffles with maple syrup (or anything overly sweet) are not a fantastic option. Most official wine tasting sessions will begin with wines in a drier/lighter style and work towards the sweeter options finishing with a port or dessert wine. If you follow a sweet meal (there will still be residual tastes in your mouth hours after you have eaten it) with a dry white you are going to instantly be confronted with the acidic tastes and miss the subtle oakiness or citrus flavours. Opt for a savoury breakfast if you have an exciting day of wine tasting ahead of you.

Don’t … rock up to a cellar door and in true “Little Britain” style, point to a wine from the tasting list and like the character Andy say “I want that one”. Chances are, just like Andy, you might be saying “I don’t like it” in another minute’s time!

If you intend to taste just one wine then this approach is probably fine however that is rarely the case, so it is best to ask the cellar door expert what order they would recommend so you again work from the drier styles to the sweeter styles.

It is not always possible to simply work from the name of the wine either.

A Gewurtztraminer can be a in a dry style, a style that preserves some residual natural sweetness or an all out dessert wine. The same can be typical of Rose or Verdelho. It really depends what vision the wine maker had in mind for that particular vintage and how the fruit and fermentation process was treated. Joining a group wine tour is a great way to ensure you avoid many of these wine tasting mistakes. Other than the fact you can enjoy a tasting with new friends (everyone is a new friend after a couple of glasses right?) who have a variety of levels of wine appreciation experience, you have access to a local guide from the region who is at your beckoned call to advise you and point you in the right direction when tasting (if you choose the right tour company)!

Local tour guides often have established relationships with the various cellar doors and can ensure you receive private tastings with a cellar door expert where the order of the wines and accompanying items such as cheese or chocolates are pre-paired so all you need to do is enjoy the culinary adventure.

There are of course many wonderful vineyards to visit in the Margaret River and Barossa regions but if you venture as far as the east coast of “downunder”, a visit to the Hunter Valley won’t disappoint. Tastes Of The Hunter Wine Tours offer both group and private tours where you can experience the region from the perspective of a local and wine enthusiast in a relaxed atmosphere. They also have some detailed reviews on Trip Advisor that focus on the personal attention given on their wine tours of the Hunter Valley.

So remember ….

Wine drinking and wine tasting go hand in hand but they are 2 different things.

What you learn from your tasting will enhance your drinking experience and ensure that you enjoy your newfound drop the way that the wine maker (or should we say “wine artist”?) intended it.

Before you know it you’ll be experiencing those subtle natural fruit flavours and hints of oak that the lady next to you is raving about … or at least you will be able to judge for yourself whether she actually doesn’t know what she is talking about!

Did these do’s and don’ts help prepare you for your next winery visit? What wine do you want to taste next time you visit the Hunter Valley?

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6 Responses

  1. My girlfriends and I are interested in going wine tasting, so I’m glad I found your post. We certainly want to know what we should and shouldn’t do on a wine tour. I like your tip that we ensure cleansing our palate with water between tasting different wines. We’ll certainly take note of that. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Such an interesting post. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about wine. I have never thought about drinking ways, does and donts. But from now on while ı’m tasting a wine, I will keep your sayings in my mind.

  3. Miguel says:

    Great tips! I’m from Spain, so we take wine very seriously. Drinking a glass of wine might turn almost into a ritual. In the beginning it’s hard to pick out the different flavours, etc. but after a while you can start recognizing certain tastes.

    Cheers,
    Miguel
    Miguel recently posted…How to get to Machu Picchu on a budgetMy Profile

  4. Leo Tat says:

    These good useful and practical tips for wine tasting. I have an friend who buys and sells wines. He sometimes invite me to these wine tasting events, I can surprise him with my new insights.

  5. Jose Allen says:

    Thanks Suzanne for great tips here. Some tips is really helpful and I don’t know that. Can’t wait to try this.
    Jose Allen recently posted…These Delicious Dishes are The Pride of Southeast Asian CountriesMy Profile

  6. Adam Lewis says:

    Some great tips here. We did a wine tasting at the weekend and by the 10th wine, I was really struggling to pick out the differences. I might try some of these techniques next time!

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