Lots of people are on holidays in the Loire Valley and I would like a penny for every wine tasting and explanation as to how to taste and what to look for in wines that I have done over the years.

I would also like a penny for every person who has said “I don’t know anything about wine – but I know what I like!”

We all know more about our own personal taste in wines than we would like to let on.

So, I just wanted to pass on some tips.

The one, very basic tip you need to know, is: if you don’t like it, don’t drink it!

No matter what is written on the label or written up by critics. Your taste isn’t necessarily the same as theirs.

Also, if you violently dislike a particular type of wine it is probably because you once had a bad experience and don’t want a replay. The stomach remembers bad experiences. Don’t force it!

Sooner or later a time will come when you are open-minded about trying that particular type of wine again. It is all in the mind, you know.

Most people have an idea as to the type of wine they like.

Red? White? or Rosé?

Heavy? Light?

Fruity? Oaky?


Remember that when you “savour” a wine, you do so with:

  • Your eyes
  • As soon as you see the bottle appear you know whether you are going to like the wine or not.
  • The bottle shape, colour, size and type – all set your taste buds up… this is before the wine has even been poured into the glass.

Once the wine has been poured, the depth, brilliance and clarity of colour also tell the subconscious whether or not you are going to like it.

  • Your nose
  • As soon as you put your nose into the glass your subconscious tells you whether or not you like the smell – and, therefore, the wine.
  • Your mouth
  • As soon as you have tasted the wine, your taste buds will be working overtime to try to work out the flavours and if you like the wine.

 Let me give you some more tips.

Once your eyes have sized up the bottle, colour and clarity of the wine, let it be poured slowly into the glass. Everything to do with wine should be done slowly!

Pick up the glass without moving the wine too much. Put your nose well into the glass and smell the wine.

Usually, one nostril is more sensitive to the smell of wine than the other.

Try both alternately until you find your best nostril. Some people need to open their mouth very slightly at this point.

Put the glass back on the table. Give it a very good swirl in the glass (preferably without spilling too much). Smell the wine again. Notice the difference and the way the fruit blossoms and comes to the forefront of your nose and subconscious taste buds.

Take a good mouthful of wine.

Roll it around the whole mouth.

If you are at a wine tasting you can spit into the spittoon provided.

If not, swallow it.

Let the remaining flavours of the wine permeate all around the mouth and up the back nasal tubes.

Ponder the flavours.

Take another good mouthful of the wine.

Roll it around the mouth again.

Try to suck in a little air to bring out more flavours in the wine.

(This is an acquired action but is basically much the same as whistling backwards. If you have never done it before, however, you will probably cough and splutter until you get used to it.)

Ponder the flavours of the wine again.

Search for the flavours of fruit.

If you cannot find any fruit flavours at all, there may be a problem with the balance of the wine.

Or, the bottle has not been opened for long enough and the wine is still “closed”. Wine should be aired (open the bottle) so that it can “breathe” for a minimum of 30 minutes before consumption. The older or heavier the wine the longer it needs to breathe. It is preferable to decant older wines.

One of the main problems over recent years has been over-oaking. The flavour of oak in a wine which has been aged in oak barrels should give a slight support to the flavour of the fruit. It should never mask the flavour of fruit!

Over-oaked wine tastes like the smell of a wet oak-wood cupboard.

Another flaw to look out for, but which is happening less and less due to screw-tops and synthetic corks, is corked wine (cork taint). This is due to a flaw in the cork if it is made of natural cork. It tastes like you imagine the flavour of cork, or dry wood. It totally kills any natural flavour of wine or fruit. You won’t find the flavour of fruit in a corked wine.

Once you have mastered these basic tasting skills you are well on your way to becoming a true amateur wine lover.

There is much more to learn about wine. However, these basic skills of wine tasting will get you well past the starting block.

First published August 2008