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Walk into any wine tasting and you’ll find a variety of newbies to know-it-alls. It can be intimidating for anyone who is just starting their wine journey.

At their core, wine tastings are meant to be educational, so they’re the perfect place for a new wine drinker to start. You’ll learn how to see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor wine...and so much more.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be subtle nuances to the experience. There are some unwritten wine tasting rules and we’re here to fill you in before you start sipping.

1. Go from light to dark.

If you’re trying a formal tasting, the sommelier, bartender, or wine maker will typically lead your wine tasting journey. But if you’re in a more DIY environment, remember this rule: go from light to dark wines.

Always start with the white, light, or bubbly wine and work your way to the darkest of reds, ending with any port or sherry. Said another way, you’ll taste from least alcoholic (ABV) to highest.

Red wines tend to leave a bigger, heavier taste and, if the order is reversed, your taste buds won’t be able to fully appreciate the light whites in comparison.

Here’s a sample order you might enjoy:

  1. Sparkling
  2. Pinot Grigio
  3. Chardonnay
  4. Pinot Noir
  5. Cabernet Sauvignon
  6. Port

2. See and sniff.

The 5 S’s of wine tasting - see, swirl, sniff, sip, and savor - make wine tasting a fully sensual experience. 

Since wine tasting begins even before your taste buds get to enjoy the flavor, it’s important to see and sniff

Start by looking at the appearance of the wine. While you may not know what you’re looking for at first, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. To begin, try putting your wine glass against a white cloth or background to see the wine.

Notice the color and clarity of the wine. White wines that have aged are darker in color, while aged reds are lighter in color. The color and clarity will also give you an idea of the grape variety and what the wine will taste like.

Then smell the cork. While rare, if there is a musty odor, it means the wine has gone bad and you’ll need to toss the bottle.

3.  Don’t forget the food.

Wine is meant to be enjoyed and paired with food. In fact, the right foods will accentuate and amplify the flavors in the wine.

In a traditional tasting, the server will have pre-planned pairings for each wine you taste. If it’s a more simple tasting, you may be offered bread or crackers to cleanse your palette in between wines. (In other words, you don’t want the wine you just tasted to affect the flavor of the wine you’re about to taste.)

However, if you plan to host - or join - a home wine tasting, a charcuterie board is the perfect way to experiment. Get creative with the food you pair with the wine you serve and include plenty of variety.

To get started, here are some foods you’ll enjoy with your wine:

  • Fruit: Light fruits like melon and pineapple are great for white wines, while berries are perfect for red wines. Dried fruits are fun to mix and match and, of course, you can never go wrong with grapes.
  • Cheese: Mix and match soft and hard or aged cheeses and experiment! Try pairing a different cheese with a different wine and notice how it affects the flavors you taste.
  • Toast, bread, or crackers: Again, these are a great palette cleanser and can be combined with different spreads, such as: tapenade, hummus, soft cheeses, pâté, honey, and more.
  • Other foods: Get creative with sweet, salty, and savory foods like nuts, chocolate, olives, and meats.

4. Have fun.

Wine was created to be enjoyed and savored. Sure, it’s fun to know where a wine originated and the underlying notes in it, but it’s also fun to taste and enjoy wine with friends and family.

You might not taste the “leather” or “white flower” notes in a wine the first try. That’s ok; don’t overthink it. What matters most is that you enjoy the wine tasting process. You might even learn a thing (or ten!) along the way.

Notice the varieties and wines you like - and those you don’t - and pay attention to how wine is paired with food too!

5. It’s totally ok to spit.

In every movie including a wine tasting, you’ll see the tasters spitting out wine after tasting it. Why? Because it’s difficult to taste wine when you’re intoxicated. 

At a formal tasting, you’ll typically find metal canisters to spit wine you’ve tasted. Simply lean over and spit out your wine into the canister. You might also want to swish water around in your mouth and spit that out too!

(And of course, you’re welcome to swallow the wine you’re tasting too!)

Armed with these 5 unwritten wine tasting rules for beginners, you’re well on your way to become a wine connoisseur in no time! 

Interested in learning more about wine from the experts? If you’re in Southern Maine, join one of the Perk’s wine clubs for new bottles each month, along with helpful information!