The primary function of any tasting room is the tasting of wine. Sounds obvious, but what is wine tasting? Wine tasting is about experiencing the wine, not just drinking it. Wine tasting is about discovering what is interesting about that particular wine, or group of wines, and most importantly deciding if you like it.
Looking around the room you may see a bunch of people going through what appears to be a strange ritual. These people are not trying to look like snobs, well most of them aren’t, they are following the basic steps of wine tasting. Look, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Swallow. Learning to follow these simple steps will greatly improve your tasting experience, and your appreciation of wine.
When you get a tasting flight the first thing you will notice is that they don’t pour very much into the glass. Don’t worry, by the time you finish the flight, usually four to six wines, you will have had the equivalent of a full glass. Because there is not a lot in the glass it is best to take your time with each sample. Look, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Swallow will let you make the most out that small sample.
Look, to make sure you are picking up your glass and not your neighbors. Once you have picked it up examine the color of the wine. White and red wines are neither white or red. They cover a wide range of hue and density. There is no "right" color, but by paying attention to the color of each wine over time you will get a feel for how taste and color relate. Darker colors usually mean a heavier, bolder flavor. After some experience color may provide a hint as to how you will like this wine. Plus it's cool to hold the glass up to a light and see it sparkle through the different colors.
Swirl gently, so the wine climbs up the edge of the glass. This fills the glass with the wine’s aroma and allows you to see its "legs". Legs are the slow drops that drift back down the inside of the glass. The thicker and slower the legs the higher the alcohol content. Oh yeah, swirling also looks cool.
Sniff the wine by putting your nose into the bowl of the glass and taking a slow, deep breath. Experienced winos look for specific aromas, some of which sound weird to the inexperienced. You can try to identify specific aromas, or just general categories. Is it simple or complex. Fruity, floral, earthy. Or just good, bad, or indifferent. Smelling the wine is like the appetizer that gets you ready for the meal.
Sip the wine into your mouth. Notice how it tastes at it first hits your tongue. Now slosh it around. Notice the difference in the effect between the front and back of your mouth. Does the flavor remind you of a single fruit, or is it highly complex, many flavors blending into one?
And finally swallow. (Yay!) Notice the taste it leaves in your mouth after it's gone. Sometimes a wine that was good up to this point will fail right here. Other times you can't wait for the next sip, but give it a few seconds. Does your mouth feel dry? That’s from the tannins. Did it leave a tingling on your tongue? That is from acidity. Does it make you want more? That means it is a good wine.
It is rarely a good idea to judge a wine on the first sip. Often the first sip resets your mouth from the previous wine. Take the second sip with the idea of building on the impressions you got from the first time. Now you can judge.
Wine tasting should not be rushed. It is way more fun than just drinking. And yes, you are drinking it too.