The technique of wine tasting

There are two distinct types of wine tasting: “technical” or “hedonistic.”
They differ in method and purpose.

Technical tasting is for the professionnals. The principal aim is to assess a wine from a commercial viewpoint, does the wine have any faults, is it typical of its origin, can it be treated as an investment or should it be sold quickly? Such tastings are not organised with the pleasurable experience of wine drinking in mind, this is strictly business.

Hedonistic tastings are all about pleasure: the taster experiences the wine in the best possible conditions. Such tasting should be educational and should enable the participants to increase their knowledge of the product.

The two types of tastings do however overlap and neither should be pursued at the expense of the other. The most rewarding experience for the drinker comes from combining strict technique and the pleasurable art of tasting. Acquiring the technical expertise for tasting is really a matter of mastering a series of opertations which after a time becomes automatic.


It’s amazing how little most of us know about something we do as often as eating and drinking. Much has been written explaining what happens to food and drink once it enters our digestive system but very little is to be found on the complexed process known as tasting. Most of us realise that chewing our food helps prolong our enjoyment and that professional wine or tea tasters indulge in some unpleasant gargling. That, for the most of us constitues the sum total of our knowledge on the subject.


Taste centers of the tongue
A sophisticated organ or blotting paper? If we were to rely entirely on the tongue to inform us about our food and drink, we would spend our days in confusion and disappointment. The human tongue is after all, fairly crude, only able to distinguish four basic sentations : sweet, sour, salt
and bitter: each being recorded on specific area of the tongue.


What we call the “taste” of something is the composite impression it makes on our minds by what we sense through our nose and mouth. The human nose is in fact much more sensitive than the mouth. Without our sense of smell , we are unable to appreciate food or distinguish between easily.

When chewing, the vapors travel from the back of our mouth, up what is called the retro-nasal passage, to the same sensory organs. So what we call “tasting” actually includes quite a bit of unconscious “smelling.”


Standard texts on wine tasting point out at an early stage that three organs are involved : eyes, nose, mouth – in that order. Authors usually start by giving their readers detailed exposition of what the sense of sight can reveal about a wine.
It is true that professionnal wine tasters spend quite some time “eyeing” the wine before putting glass to lips. The wine society however is here to indulge in the joys of consumption and not to simply admire the visual pleasure of a glass of Claret. The eye does neverhtless have an important role to play even for the pleasure drinker, anticipating a fault. Hazy wine indicates some kind of malady and suggests an uncharacteristic taste is likely. If the wine is browner that one would normally expect, then the wine is probably oxidized. This is due to back storage
or an inferior cork. An unexpected sparkle will make the wine worse than it should. The wine may be going through an unintentional secondary fermentation in the bottles.

Wine crystals are quite harmless and also quite rare. The wine trade sick of having bottles returned , now go to great lenghts to remove the offending articles by freezing and filtering before bottling. Bits of cork or deposits from the lip of the bottle in your glass are due to
careless opening and/or poor service.


Condition and environment:

The taster must be in good health, there is a little point in attempting to savour the joys of the wine with a cold. For best results , the palate must be fresh and have had no recent contact with spicy foods, chocolate, mints or tobacco. The average palate is most alert between 10-11:00 am.

The setting is also very important. Ideally the room should be free from strong odours (including the perfume of the tasters) and well lit, preferably natural light. The ideal temperature should be about 20°-22°C.

Finally the glassware used should be thin scrupulously clean and tulip shaped.

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4 Responses to “The technique of wine tasting”

  1. Thank you for the great break down of wine tasting (and tasting in general).

    Like most people I think, I was thrown off by the gurgling and spitting that is commonplace at wine tasting events. It’s only after I started to learn more about activating the true taste of the wine and working to detect all of those little subtleties that I began to appreciate this silly practice.

    Here’s to hedonistic tasting.

    Matthew Apsokardu
    Classic Wines – Wine reviews, prices, and ratings

  2. Thank you Matthew for stopping by.
    Spitting set me back too at first. Then I understood it was useful to taste more wines… and stay healthy.
    Cheers to hedonistic tasting!

  3. George says:

    I’ve never given this a try, but I think it’s about time I do.

  4. Limo Services CA says:

    I like your idea of the “Hedonistic Tasting” very interesting thoughts.