Wine Advice: Tips For Assessing Wine When Dining

A wine assessment takes considerable time and thought. When dining, although there is no time limitation to accept or decline a wine, the fact is, many patrons feel rushed.

Wine assessments focus on appearance, aroma(smell) and taste, and the following tips will help you make a relatively quick, yet accurate, assessment.  It helps if you are familiar with the grape variety used to make the wine and if you are familiar with the wine – even better. You already know what to expect.

When wine is presented to you, check to make certain that it is indeed what you ordered. Verify the name of the wine, producer and vintage. Once accepted the waiter pours a small sample, usually one ounce, for your assessment and approval.

First, note the appearance of the wine. Tilt the glass to view it against a white background – a napkin or placemat. Evaluate the color, clarity and hue. Is the wine clean and shiny or dull and murky? Most wine is bright and reflective although some of the best wines are unfiltered and may appear slightly hazy.  Wine made from different varieties or by different methods has dramatic differences in color. For example, Sauvignon Blanc is pale straw yellow in color where an oak-influenced Chardonnay is a medium gold hue. The  “legs” or ‘tears” , the droplets that stream down the inside of a glass, are not an assessment of a wines quality, they are simply a reflection of the amount of glycerin, alcohol or sweetness.

Smell is by far the most critical assessment. Put your nose in the glass and smell the wine, then swirl (swirling exposes wine to air releasing aromas) then smell again. Take your time. Does the wine have the aromatic profile you expected? Do you detect any faults? Wine should never smell like sherry (unless it is),  as this is proof of an oxidized wine, where musty or wet basement odors indicate a “corked” wine.  Other scents such as geraniums, onions, cabbage and nail-polish remover also indicate faults. If you identify an aromatic fault there is absolutely no need to taste the wine. If you are uncertain about the fault then you must taste the wine.

The main goal of tasting is to confirm aromatic faults and assess the balance between sweetness, acidity, alcohol and tannin, the major components of wine. Faults detected only thru taste are excessive bitterness or tannins (the drying, astringent texture in wine).

If the wine is faulty it should be refused but if you simply do not like it,  that is a different scenario all-together.

Kate Wagner Zeke, Sommelier(ISG)
Certified Specialist of Wine, Certified Wine Educator(SWE)