Wine tasting 101: The dos and don'ts

Friday, 24 May, 2024
Samarie Smith-Meletiou
If you're reading this, chances are you're an adventurous wine lover eager to elevate your wine-tasting experience.

If you are planning to visit some wineries to discover new gems before stocking up on winter wines, let's cover the basics.

Most wineries will and should charge a tasting fee, underscoring the value of the product and service. Temperature plays a pivotal role in unlocking the full potential of a wine. While white wines served too cold may mask delicate nuances, reds at too warm a temperature can amplify alcohol volatility. Trust the wine educator at the winery to guide you on the optimal serving temperatures.

Additionally, learning the basic jargon is important for those serious about deepening their wine knowledge. Still, make the experience your own. Leave terms like "long legs" for the runway and "x aroma coming through" for the psychics.

The dos and don'ts of wine tasting

Tip 1: Avoid eating last night's leftover garlicky pizza if you plan to taste a few decent wines. Brushing your teeth just before tasting can make wine taste like seawater.

Tip 2: Don't wear strong perfume. Not only will it detract from your own experience of the wine, but also everyone around you.

Tip 3: Don't be deceived by colour and so be rushed to decide whether you like or dislike the wine. Darker white wines may indicate age and not always a heavy hand on oak. A rosé often surprises you, and a lighter red wine doesn't necessarily mean you've sidestepped the tannin dragon. Ask questions about the style of wine about to be poured that can give you a clearer idea of what to expect.

Tip 4: Please learn to hold the glass correctly – by the stem. For some reason, film directors think it's sexy for a woman to wrap her whole hand around the glass. Like a good wine, Jane Fonda has aged gracefully, but goodness, directors, please help her with the glass! Holding a glass elegantly by the stem honours the temperature and keeps greasy braai fingerprints at bay.

Tip 5: Any person presenting the wine tasting will furnish you with some aromas to look for but be confident enough to voice your own experience. If you don't eat strawberries, the wine will rather remind you of plums, for example. Some people are introverted, and some wines require more time for you to get to know them better. While the allure of some lies in their bouquet, others are more texture-driven and need food to show their true self.

Tip 6: Be experimental and try wines outside your comfort zone. You may discover a new favourite! To remember this, keep a wine diary to jot down some tasting notes and log your favourite and not-so-favourite wines.

Tip 7: Avoid speed dating. Drinking too fast and not spitting the wine during the tasting can sometimes obscure your opinion of the wine. Taking more time so the wine can unfurl itself in the glass and listening to what the wine educator wishes to share will build a more lasting impression.

Tip 8: Taste like no one is watching because there is no perfect swirl. All you have to do is hold the stem upright and draw a circle with the glass in the air – not so much that you unleash a storm in your glass, just enough so that the oxygen can gently mingle with the wine to accentuate the aromas.

Tip 9: If they tell you are about to sip on a complex wine, allow your mind to drift to that multi-talented person you know. The opposite of a complex wine is a simple wine, as a complex wine will present many clusters of flavours on the nose and the palate. For example, one cluster refers to a family of flavours like tropical or citrus aromas. If you can detect aromas from three or more clusters like cherry (red fruit), plum (stone fruit), pepper (spice), and chocolate (oak), and it repeats on your palate, you may have a pretty fine wine on your hands. So, the next time you run shopping errands, smell everything – no matter how strange it may seem.

Tip 10: Don't blame the sulphites in the wine for your headache, for something like dried fruit contains way more. Alcohol might instead be the culprit, also leading to dehydration. While some people are sensitive to histamines and tyramines, chances are good you know that you should not have had that one last glass!

Photos: Samarie Smith-Meletiou

Samarie Smith-Meletiou

Samarie Smith has travelled to more than 50 countries, which ignited an insatiable love for wines that subsequently became the centerpiece of her career.

Samarie is a seasoned journalist and professional photographer who started the wine publication Versnit after a decade of being the lifestyle, travel, and wine editor for Die Burger and Media24 before joining Benguela Cove Wine Estate as Brand Manager from 2018 until March 2020.

A Fine Arts and Journalism graduate, Samarie has completed her Cape Wine Academy diploma and wine business management at the UCT business school. She is also a certified taster through the Michael Fridjhon Judging Academy and has represented South Africa in the World Blind tasting Championships in France 2014. She continues serving on various wine judging panels while working as a freelance journalist, creative brand consultant and concluding her WSET diploma in wine.

Her infectious love for wine led to the online platform Married Two Wine, where she and her sommelier husband Georgio Meletiou share their daily wine musings.