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How To Taste Wine

We reached into the virtual mailbag recently and found this question from an eager Tasting Room member:

How do I taste – really taste, I mean? Am I supposed to keep the wine in my mouth for longer before I swallow? Or run air over my tongue like sommeliers do in fancy restaurants? I just want to make sure I understand each of my wines.

We have mixed emotions when it comes to answering this question. Sure, you can do as our on-staff experts do, and really take your time to smell and think about the aromas; slurp the wine and let some air run over your tongue; swish the wine in your mouth a bit, then spit; and then start furiously jotting notes. But do you need to do all that? Probably not.

Let’s put it this way: Next time you go to Chipotle, tell us how you taste your burrito.

Kind of a weird request, right? Taste is a sense we all possess, yet it’s still a very personal, individual experience. You have to figure out what works best for you when it comes to assessing the qualities of anything you smell, sip or chew. And remember – it’s ok to disagree with our tasting note, a critic’s score or even the winemaker’s description on the back label. Think of it like this: If a film critic writes that The Expendables 3 is an “action-packed thriller with both brawn and brains,” that doesn’t mean you’ll feel that the action in the movie is particularly enthralling or that the storyline shows the faintest hint of intelligence.

All that said, if you’re still feeling a bit lost in terms of how you should assess wine, the best thing we can do is point you toward a few resources – mainly books – that we know thousands of people have found helpful for learning how to taste wines for both quality and style.

Wine for Dummies

This book has been out for years and is regularly revised and updated. Its authors run a wine-education course in New York that’s considered to be one of the best in the country. There’s a reason this book has endured the test of time: It’s one of the finest resources for novices and even semi-experienced wine drinkers.

How To Taste: A Guide to Enjoying Wine

This book by Master of Wine Jancis Robinson, one of the world’s most renowned experts, manages to provide a very down-to-earth, straightforward approach to wine assessment. Some would even go so far as to say that this is the first English-authored wine book that isn’t stuffy or rigid. The book was written several years ago and has since been updated, but the original material remains some of the best tasting advice ever written.

The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert: Take a Whiff of That

Created by Master Sommelier Richard Betts, this isn’t just a scratch-and-sniff wine book – it’s a smart scratch-and-sniff wine book. It may only be twenty-something pages long, but that’s all it really takes to get a better sense of what you smell in various wines. Bravo to Betts for making the complex ever so simple.

Do you have another resource or guide that’s helped you on your wine-education journey? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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