Erin Doman on October 23, 2015 1 Comment Master sommeliers study for years to become true wine experts. They know specific facts about viticulture, such as the details of the soil content of vineyards around the world, or how local and global events spur subtle changes in a wine, which can help them to determine its age and provenance. The process takes years of commitment and preparation, but you don’t have to become a master to gain a better appreciation for a fine Cabernet. Here are ten tips to help you learn to properly utilize all your senses as you swirl, sip and savor. Pay Attention to Context Wine can be enjoyed almost anywhere, but for the best experience you need the right circumstances and environment. The context of your tasting will influence how you perceive the wine and whether you’ll be able to detect subtle differences. 1. Sip at Your Best A glass of wine can help you unwind at the end of a long day, but if you are too tired you may be unable to focus on the flavor. Being under the weather can diminish your ability to detect nuances as well, particularly if you are congested. For the best wine tasting, show up healthy and well-rested. Dress your best and your mind will be primed for sophistication, but avoid wearing heavy perfume or cologne, as these can also interfere with your ability to taste the wine properly. Avoid eating or drinking anything with a strong flavor, such as garlic or a cappuccino, as these can dull your sense of taste. If necessary, nibble on a palate-cleansing dish such as apple slices or sorbet so you can begin with a clean slate. 2. Begin With the Best Environment Where you taste can be as important as how you taste. The music playing, the ambient noise, the lighting, colors, textures and people can all contribute to the way you experience a wine. Abrasive music can make it taste sour, so don’t waste your money on a sweet selection in a restaurant where the music is loud and obnoxious. On the other hand, mellow, smooth music can enhance the flavor, which is why many upscale events hire a jazz quartet to play while drinks are served. 3. Fine Wines Deserve Fine Glasses The shape of a glass can influence how it breathes, influencing the aroma, the temperature and the texture. Even before the drink is poured, the tactile experience of holding that breathtakingly delicate flute in your hand prepares your mind for a subtle sensory experience. For the best experience, serve wine in high quality glasses suited for its variety. Choose Your Wine Carefully When you’re enjoying a meal at a sophisticated restaurant the waiter will likely suggest a wine that pairs well with your meal. Similarly, it’s important to make the right selections for your objectives when planning a wine tasting. 4. Choose Varieties With Lower Alcohol Content Studies show that we are better able to perceive flavor in red wines with moderate alcohol content, about 13 percent, as opposed to higher alcohol varieties. Winemakers and critics assert that high alcohol drinks can lack dimension and subtlety. A less alcoholic wine delivers a more dimensional flavor. 5. Sample Sensory Extremes If you are new to wine tasting you’ll want to learn what sommeliers mean when they say a selection is acidic, oaky or smooth. Find vintages that are particularly strong and weak in the attribute you are striving to understand. By sampling the extremes you’ll get a taste for the structure, then bring that experience to less obvious wines. 6. Taste the Same Kind of Wine From Different Vineyards and Regions At a single sitting, sample the same style from different regions and pay careful attention to the differences. For example, try a Chardonnay from California, then compare it to a similar selection grown in the Chablis. They will be similar, but with careful attention and repeated sampling you’ll find that they are not indistinguishable. Drink Like a Sommelier Now that you have the optimum environment and the perfect selection of wines, it’s time to try your skill. A true connoisseur does not simply drink the wine. A tasting should be luxurious, never rushed. Use all your senses as you explore the dimensions of each selection. 7. Use Your Eyes Watch the wine as it is poured into the glass. Both red and white wines change color as they age. A watery yellow wine is likely to be younger than a more golden selection. Red wines lose color as they age, so a ruby red selection is probably older than its deep violet companion. However, looks don’t tell you everything, particularly when it comes to age. 8. Swirl the Glass Oxygen can ruin wine in a bottle, but once it’s in the glass the wine needs to breathe and blossom. Swirl like a professional by holding your elbow stationary and moving your wrist in small concentric circles in the air. 9. Take a Whiff Each type of grape is unique, and each will produce a distinct flavor with its own unique aroma. Inhale gently as you swirl. Take a small mouthful and hold in on the back of your tongue, then breathe in and out through your nose. Smelling the wine in this way delivers the scent directly to your olfactory bulbs, and when combined with the taste you get a multidimensional picture of the wine’s character. Aroma fades the longer a bottle has been opened, so for the best results use a freshly uncorked bottle. 10. Sip Slowly Wine is meant to be savored, and careful sips will allow you to fully experience the personality of the drink. Hold each sip near the back of your mouth and breathe through your nose, continuing to enjoy the scent as well as the taste. Consider the aftertaste as well. If it leaves you wanting more, you’ve chosen a winner. As with any skill you wish to master, the best way to become an expert is to practice frequently. Sample a wide variety of wines and soon you’ll have a list of favorites that you’ll return to over and over. Take the time to swirl, smell and sip each time and you’ll become so familiar with the wine that you’ll be able to identify it anywhere. There has never been a more enjoyable hobby.