Quick Recipes and Easy

Wine Tasting

We use all our senses when we drink a wine: you hear the wine being taken out of the fridge, the comforting clink of a wine opener hitting off a bottle, the tinkle of the glasses. Another sound, the pop of a cork. You see the colour of the bottle as your host swings it towards you, making sure not to hit the door on the way. (Is it a dark bottle, you wonder. Excellent, it is probably red. If it’s clear, it’s white. Well what the hell. That’s not a terrible thing either).

On the bottle, you see the mark has italicised writing on a white background with gold foil, possibly french. Oh no, it has a bold illustration, you could be looking at a new world wine. Have you seen the mark before? Yes! Maybe it’s a branded wine, something consistent so you can nearly tell what it will taste like before you even get your grubby hands on the glass. If not, then a new experience is on the way. Yummy.

When the wine is uncorked, you may choose to smell the cork to see if the wine is tainted, if it isn’t you will have experienced your first sense of what this wine is about. Is it strong, light, fragrant or fruity smelling? You pour it into the glass, the first thing you do is look, is the rim of the white wine in the glass a pale colour, perhaps like straw? If it’s a warm gold, perhaps it is sweeter, a german wine perhaps (Oh bugger, I hope it’s not a dessert wine!). If it has a greeny hue you may reckon, mmm, Australian.

You taste it, perhaps you’re eating food at the time and don’t notice much, just an acidity in the mouth that cuts through the stout in the meat that you’re eating; or maybe its robustness makes you stop eating so you can delight in its full-bodied flavour. That’s a lovely wine, mmmmm, I like that. A lick of the lips, yes, certainly a goodie, I’m glad I came out tonight. You question for the bottle: you hold it in your hand, you like the soft curves of a wine bottle, it’s smooth, its shape is feminine, not hard edged like a Tequila bottle. As you go on drinking from your glass, and the wine continues to breathe, it takes on a different complexion. If it’s white, it seems to have developed more flavour, there’s more in the wine that you learn as you go along. The red gets more luscious, and you find more fruit in there, more body, the taste gets, well, deeper somehow.

As you can see, you use all your five senses when you drink wine, and you already know a lot about wine. It is one of the few things where we engage so fully with all parts of it.


The appearance of a wine tells you a lot about it, before you ever taste it. You need to pour the wine into a spotlessly clean glass, then hold the glass against a white background, a piece of card or a tablecloth so you can see its colour.

If it’s a white wine, is it green, yellow, does the rim have a brown tinge? The stronger the colour, the older the wine. White wines don’t age well, so you don’t want it to be brown, or it will probably be undrinkable.
A red wine moves from a purpley-red on the rim, to brown as it ages.
Legs: This is what you see when you swish the wine around the bowl of the glass, and you see rivulets of clear wine falling back down the glass. These rivulets are called ‘legs’. The thicker they are, the more viscosity the wine has and the more likely it is that it has more body and more alcohol. (You will see the legs better if you use a clean glass – it takes about 10 washes to get rid of washing-up liquid from a glass, and this can impede your ability to see a wine’s better features). But, ‘legs’ are no indicator that a wine is excellent.


When you swish the wine around the glass, you release the aroma which gives you a chance to see what is in the wine: if it’s a red, can you smell fruit: blackberries, cherries, plums; can you smell leaves, if so that’s called herbaceousness. With a white you may get lychees, grapefruit, lemon, mango, grass, even wee!

Hold the smell memory before you taste. Get out every word you can so that you can later distinguish one wine from another. If you can genuinely smell blackcurrrants, then when you smell the sweetness of blackberries the next time, you will have some thought of the subtleties of each wine.


Wines depend on a balance between sweetness and acidity – take a glug of wine, not too much, and if you can suck in some air while you’re doing it (a fantastic party trick) all the better. The oxygen will heighten the taste. Does it taste smooth and round, or is it harsh, robust even? How long does the taste last? This is the end, or length of the wine. Does the taste you get suit the wine? Is it dry, fruity, sweet, round, acidic, rich, weak, thin, flat – these are all words that we innately know, and the more you taste wine (as opposed to just drinking it) the more your senses will tell you what wine has what.

Practice helps to make perfect

Look up the wine reviews in the papers – buy a wine that you like the look of within your budget – and measure your own perceptions and notes against that of the reviewer. Did you find chocolate in there, a hint of spice even? No! Well don’t worry. Even reviewers disagree about the same wines.

Take Blue Nun. Many reviewers despise Blue Nun, yet in blind tastings, it has at times emerged as the best wine in the tasting to have with curry. An article in The Guardian in 2003 quoted Michael Schuster, who teaches wine tasting in London. ‘When I conduct blind tastings for my students,’ he says, ‘I always slip in a Blue Nun. Usually at least half the group likes the Blue Nun the best. When I reveal the mark, they get so embarrassed. I tell them not to be. There’s an idiotic prejudice against Blue Nun. It’s like enjoying a Strauss waltz. It’s immediate, enjoyable and gives a lot of pleasure, just not in a profound way. But you can’t spend your whole life being profound.’

Delight in tasting – you can’t be incorrect, you can only become ‘more right’. (With apologies for appalling grammer – after all, you don’t always have to know the right word as long as everyone gets your meaning!).

Anne Kennedy is a food writer who indulges in wine! Having worked as a consultant for a wine chain in Ireland as well as working with major food and wine retailers, she has had the privilege of tasting literally hundreds of wines. She is now Managing Editor of greatfood.ie greatfood.ie, Ireland’s food and wine website full of recipes, tips, wine knowledge and reviews, cookware and book reviews and lots more.

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