Often times, I will be at a wine tasting, or even out with friends, and they say “How am I supposed to taste the wine?" I suppress the urge to say something silly, and tell them to do the “Five S’s" to taste the wine.
The “ Five S’s" are relatively simple: Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish and Spit (or Swallow). By thinking about these five steps, the tasting of wine can become a vastly different experience.
The first “S" is Swirl. Doing this adeptly and not spilling wine everywhere takes some practice. The first few times you try, most likely you will feel a bit awkward, and hope not to toss some wine on whomever you are tasting with (and yes, pretty much everyone has done this, so don’t feel too badly. Just try not to aim for the person wearing white). The proper way to hold a white wine glass is by the stem, as not to heat the wine with your 98.6 degree paws, and red can be held by the bulb of the glass, but again, Red is better at a cooler temperature than what your body emits. The idea of swirling the wine is to move your glass in small clockwise or counter-clockwise circles, so that the wine moves around in the glass. The reason for doing this is to let the wine come in more contact with the air. By swirling, you initiate more quickly the oxidation process of the wine. Tilt the glass towards you and also away from you and look at the color of the wine. What do you see (and no, this is not the time to comment on the “Legs" of the wine. Legs gives you more of an indication of the alcohol content of the wine. )? Make note in your mind about what you see in the color of the wine.
After swirling the wine around the glass for a few seconds, lift the glass to your nose and smell the wine. This is giving another one of your senses a chance to get in touch with the wine. Think about what you smell when you “sniff" the wine. Do you smell Plums? Flowers? Wet dog? All of these things are important. And most likely, the wine that smells like wet dog is bad (skunked, TCA, cooked or just plain terrible), and you won’t want to drink it.
Now comes the next “S": Sipping the wine. Take a little wine in your mouth, and head right into “S" number four: Swish. Let the wine hit all parts of your mouth. What do you taste? Where on your palette do you taste what attributes of the wine? Also, try to let a little air into your mouth while you have the wine on your palette. Allowing the oxidation process to occur in your mouth can give you a very different perspective on the wine. You will likely make some slurping noises the first time you try this, and possible dribble some on your chin, but after a little practice, you will get the hang of it. Think about how the wine feels in your mouth, what you taste, and any other senses, feelings or emotions you come up with while you are swishing around.
Now comes the deciding moment? Do I Spit or Swallow? If you are tasting a lot of wines, spitting may be the route to go, especially if you are driving. The drunker you are, the harder it is to make a good assessment, or comprehensible one for that matter. Michael Affatato, ebullient winemaker of the beautiful Right Bank Bordeaux (wine and property) Chateau La Gatte says: “I spit, I just spit in my stomach. " To each their own, but after spitting or swallowing, think about how long you taste the wine in your mouth. Count how many seconds you still feel the wine, and that is the finish. If you count 10-15 seconds, that is a long finish. If you don’t taste it right after you swallow it, then that wine has a short finish or no finish.
Try to be as descriptive as possible each step of the way while tasting a wine. In doing so, you will start to learn what you like and don’t like in wines, giving you a better chance of getting what you want the next time you are in a store or restaurant. Tasting wine is not complex, and can be more fun when you understand what turns you on about each wine. Happy tasting!
Robert E. Enslein, Jr. , is Managing Member of Brix Wine Vault, LLC, a wine storage company based in New York City. Brix is a professional quality wine storage facility that serves individuals, retailers, restaurants as well as wholesale customers. Learn more at http://www.brixwinevault.com