Six steps for Novices to get the best out of Wine Tasting Events

Many years ago, after my first wine tasting evening. I arrived home and my husband looked at me and asked me if I had been paintballing in a liquor store.

I have moved of course on, but everybody has to start somewhere! so following requests here is the Winephantoms guide to advanced wine tasting for beginners!

You are only going to get a very brief few moments to try each desired wine, it won’t be by the fire, with food or good company so you should treat a tasting occasion as speed dating for wines!

If you are new to this “wine thing” don’t worry, a little preparation and no one will know you’re a rookie. Your enjoyment of each wine is personal and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

1.      To Consider Beforehand

The English language uses the word “taste” both objectively and subjectively thus people often quickly decide that if they don’t like the wine it must be bad. Hence you sometimes get poor or one dimensional wine lists in restaurants based on one person’s opinions. Remember the wine can be good but you may not like it! The idea is to try to assess the wine for its’ intrinsic qualities.Wine cheat sheet jpeg (2)

Almost everyone I know is equipped with a nose, a mouth and a brain.  Visit a website like and jot down some of the familiar aromas listed on the outside of the aroma wheel. has the no longer used tongue taste map diagram (see above),  it lists the sensations detected by the tongue and these are worth noting.  Fruit, herbs and other tastes are actually aromas that rise up from the mouth via the back of the throat to the olfactory bulb in the top of your nose. Generally white wines will taste of white, green or yellow fruit, red wines will taste of red, blue of dark fruit. It’s all just a question of practice.

2.      Preparation

Do not wear white, cream or indeed any plain, light pastel shades. I’m convinced there are disgruntled former sommeliers frequenting these events and maliciously spitting Merlot onto unsuspecting tasters. I invariably return home with speckles of red on parts of my clothing that I can’t reach with my hand let alone my mouth! I have witnessed some catastrophic misguided spitting incidents and destroyed linen suits.

Shower but don’t apply aftershave or cologne, smelling like the inside of a beautician’s handbag is only going to distort your perception of wines aromas and annoy others around you.

Avoid mouthwash or gum, and leave the cigar until afterwards.



3.      Departure

Bring your bus fare!

Leave the car at home, if a close friend is coming along don’t let them bring their car either, bring an acquaintance to do the driving! Even if you spit every sample you will still absorb minute amounts of alcohol each time that will mount up throughout the day.

Another thing to be left at home is all prejudices and attitudes, approach the event with no preconceptions of varietals, brands or names. Allow yourself be charmed and surprised.

4.      Arrival

Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated, I have worked at tastings for many years, most people only have limited wine knowledge but know what they like.

Get you bearings, look at the room and the catalogue or guide and decide what you want to try. I struggle to effectively taste a maximum 50 wines in a full day with a generous lunch break in between. Wooziness and palate fatigue will inevitably kick in by 4 pm.

It might be prudent to limit yourself to 25-30 samples. Make sure to try some wines you wouldn’t normally buy.

5.      Tasting the Wines.

Look professional-hold you tasting glass by the foot or the stem.

Don’t rush to the first winery or table and sample everything.

 Just remember when you were a teenager, was the first boy or girl you danced with at the disco the one you walked home with at the end of the night? – -No! I think not.

Taste young, dry, unwooded white wines first, they generally look more translucent and lighter in colour. Then deeper coloured older whites afterwards – you will not encounter many of these.

Reds: Start on lighter ruby coloured with lower alcohol then to heavier more opaque and older wines showing a more brick red tone.

Make sure to spit as often as possible, otherwise you will get drunk, however, the most enjoyable tastings I have ever attended were the ones with empty spittoons!

Be selective, you probably won’t need to taste every single wine on show, talk to producers about the wines as if you were interviewing the wine for a job. Ask about what they don’t volunteer to tell you. I find this useful for ascertaining to whom I am speaking; the drone from the marketing department or the passionate producer/ winemaker. Allow yourself to be lead a little. Listen to their honest suggestions.

Look at the colour and consistency, swirl and sniff, how intense is it, does it smell ok? What does it remind you of? Sip and aerate the wine, suck in air over the wine and coat the inside of your mouth with it. What do you get? Don’t worry about making slurping noises.

This will help you remember the important components while tasting wine:

So think of the types of men you met on your last holiday; DRY ones, INTENSE ones, BALANCED ones, FRUITY ones and LINGERING ones that just would’t leave you alone! These are the qualities you might appreciate in a wine.

When you taste, check through your little list. It may help you recognise some components of the wine.

Have a conversation with the wine. If it doesn’t talk to you, move on!

The beauty of wine is that it can be a multisensory experience. What does it remind you of? Every time I close my eyes and drink big Australian Shiraz I think of Samantha from Sex and the City. When I drink good Californian Cabernet I hear motorbikes and heavy metal music playing in the left side of my head!

Don’t let anyone tell you how it tastes, you really have to decide that for yourself, your perception of tastes is as individual as your fingerprint and price can be an indication of scarcity rather than quality.

If you are inexperienced at spitting, lower your head over the spittoon and let gravity take the wine. Keep a kerchief with you just in case. Never attempt long range disgorgement. You will be lucky if you miss, unlucky if you hit the back of the Mayors favourite linen jacket!

You are not insulting a winemaker by spitting out his wine, but you are complimenting him by swallowing it.

Riesling is pronounced; REEZ- ling, try some if you can!

Make notes, even if it’s only for the wines you really like. After a long days’ tasting you are unlikely to remember individual wines.

6.      Finally!

When palate fatigue kicks in, stop trying to be serious. Your official business for the day is now concluded.

Don’t start buying at the end of the day. The Amygdala and cortex are affected by alcohol which loosens the ability to resist temptation, now you know why they give you a lousy Chardonnay when you’re looking at overpriced handbags!

Enjoy yourself! Wine tasting is great fun and can be a good opportunity to meet likeminded prospective companions.  Remember that; wine stimulates romance and lubricates procreation while simultaneously lubricating romance thus stimulating procreation.


About winephantom

The recession has hit hard, no more tipping the last 1/2 glass out of the champagne bottle because it's a tad too warm. My lender would be kicking down my door for his interest if he knew I was drinking at all. Now I spend my time with the €5-€10 bottles discovering some real value and encountering some swamp donkeys to be avoided. This blog is a Wine Diploma holding palate, forced to trawl the murky depths populated by the bare knuckle fighters of the "entry level" wine world, trying to reveal the real crackers. Tasting notes exposed!! Regular explanations of the rubbish that are tasting notes! Wine Waffle indeed! Stories and trivia about wine.
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