Behind The Butter

ELR Wine 101 Part III: Wine Tasting For Dummies

Welcome to ELR Wine 101 Part II: Wine Tasting For Dummies!

So by now we know we all love to DRINK wine and are excited to play around pairing different wines with different meals. But how do you go into a professional (or not so professional) situation and actually taste wine? Many wine stores have FREE tastings and that is, in my opinion, the number one best way to experience wine and learn more about it. To learn, you must drink!
A professional tasting may seem daunting at first but its really a piece of cake. The big secret? Just ACT like you know what you are doing! If you go in there confident and sure of yourself, you will be just fine. You don’t have to know anything at all about wine to go to a tasting….that is where you learn! Honestly, the first wine tasting I have ever been to happened only last summer when I met Kath and her husband in Asheville!

Here are the three steps that I learned in culinary school on how to properly taste wine.
1. When the glass of wine is placed in front of you, rotate your glass on the table to swirl the wine gently. Pick up the glass and stick your nose in it. Yes, totally! You really want to get the full aroma of the wine so you can sound intellectual and say, “oh! This smells like a meadow of wildflowers in late Spring!” Just kidding. Well you could say that if you want but you could also just guess at different fruits you think you smell. Popular ones include apple, pear, tropical fruits, cherries and blackberries.

2. After you smell the wine, taste it. Notice I didn’t say GULP. Take a medium-sized sip and swoosh it around in your mouth (not violently like mouthwash, more in a gentle manner). Now comes the funny part: open your lips just a tiny bit and actually draw some air into your mouth. I liken this to pretend like you are sucking through a straw.

3. Swallow the wine or politely spit it out. If you go to a wine tasting there will always be a little bucket where you can spit your wine. Sounds sort of gross and it actually IS sort of gross but its very tacky to go to a wine tasting totally wasted, which is what you will become if you swallow every time.

Wine tastings are A LOT of fun! If you don’t know where to start, I recommend just doing a generic google search of wine tastings in your area. Like I said, most times they are free AND (score!) have free food. What are you waiting for?! Your homework tonight is to find one for this weekend to go to!

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  • Whitney
    July 16, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    I’ve never been to a wine tasting, so thanks for the tips. Now I just have to get myself to one!

  • Maria
    July 16, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    What a great post, Jenna! As a total newbie to wine, I have no idea what I like. I’ve seen signs around here for wine tastings ,but haven’t had the confidence to go. Now I know just what to do 😉 LOL at wildflowers in the spring!!

  • Recipes for Creativity
    July 16, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I live near Asheville, where did you do your first tasting?

    • jenna
      July 16, 2009 at 3:12 pm

      Recipes for Creativity,

      Ahh honestly I have no idea. It was a little over a year ago and was this tiny little place downtown. Kath might know since she was the one that found it!

  • Jessica
    July 16, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    Great post! Thanks!

  • Julia
    July 16, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    I LOVE wine tastings, and have done a few, mostly with my dad who loves wine and learning about it. I’ve never heard of the last part of the tasting you suggested, sucking in a little air? I’ll have to try that next time I open a bottle. Question, do you know why you’re supposed to suck in a little air?
    Thanks for doing these wine postings, I’ve loved reading them!

  • Lisa
    July 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    You can also just dump the rest of the wine in your glass into the bucket (as opposed to spitting). I usually take a couple of sips and then ditch the rest. Also, have a designated driver if you’re hitting more than one tasting. That is almost a requirement if you’re visiting wine country.

  • Daria (Summer of the CSAs)
    July 16, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Ah yes, fake it til you make it – my motto in almost everything. 😉

  • Vanessa (Last Night's Leftovers)
    July 16, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Great post! I have never gone to a wine tasting. Now I really want to!

  • Christie @ Quit Your Diet
    July 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Ha. I know you are totally serious but I am totally cracking up at being wasted at a tasting being tacky. It makes me think about the many wine festivals I have attended and the many drunken times that ensued 😀

  • Sarah
    July 16, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I did my first wine tasting at an apple orchard last year! It was really fun, and nice to have a pro explain what all the nuanced flavors were. I liked the food pairings too–especially the wine paired with chocolate 🙂

  • MarathonVal
    July 16, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    My fave place to wine taste is in the Central Coast of CA, a bit south of Big Sur and north of San Luis Obispo. It is GORGEOUS countryside, fabulous, reknowned wineries but not as enormous (and presumptious!) as Napa.

  • Hallie
    July 16, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    I am loving these Wine 101 posts! Honestly,they’re really helpful. And it’s reminding me how much I LOVE wine tastings and wineries…I’ve only been a few times and it’s SO much fun. Brings me back to college days actually, since I went to school in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes wine reigon. Good times 😀

  • Ali
    July 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    these posts are so helpful
    Speaking of Culinary School- I am contemplating it very throroughly and I was wondering if you had a spare sec to answer some questions for me via email or Skype? Let me know!

    • jenna
      July 16, 2009 at 4:05 pm


      Drop me an email. I will be catching up on my emails on my flight on Saturday!

  • Katie
    July 16, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    The first wine tasting I did was at the Biltmore Estate, also in Asheville. It is overwhelming at first, but really fun!

    I’m really enjoying your wine posts. You have great information and make it fun to dream about trying all of these different varieties.

  • Cat
    July 16, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    You actually swirl the glass to see your wine’s “legs” – the streaks of wine that form on the glass – and if there is any sediment in the wine in addition to releasing the aromas. Legs are an indicator of alcohol content (though some claim more legs = higher quality). Really it’s just physics and surface tension, but try it on different wines and you’ll see different legs. You suck in air to oxygenate the wine so you can taste it better. Have you seen those fancy wine pourers that add bubbles as they pour? Same concept.

  • Chloe
    July 16, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Done and done! I am definitely going wine tasting soon, and recruiting lots of friends to go with me!
    Love this new blog segment, and I can’t wait to see what you experience in Sonoma.

  • MMiller
    July 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Love it! To learn you must drink! So now I can learn every day! Can’t wait to find one near me!

  • Susan Eitelman
    July 16, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Gotta practice that technique at home first, so I don’t dribble down my shirt! 🙂

  • Kim
    July 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I went on my first winery tour this year in NC with my Mom and we had a blast! I can’t wait to go to a tasting now. Thanks for all of the tips!

  • Shannon (The Daily Balance)
    July 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for the info! Now maybe I’ll actually GO TO A WINE TASTING! I’m always so intimidated 😉

  • Kristen
    July 16, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    How funny, i was already planning on going to a wine tasting this weekend. This info will come in very handy. Thanks!

  • Andee (Runtolive)
    July 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    Yay! Thanks for the tips, I’m going wine tasting in Napa next week!

  • Kim
    July 16, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    What a great post! Your writing really comes alive when you talk about wine, and it’s clear you enjoy taking on the teacher role (I’m going to keep in mind, “When in doubt, just pick a fruit, any fruit” ;).) You are going to ROCK that interview this weekend!

  • Angharad
    July 16, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Sweet homework! haha. I’ve gone on wine tasting tours in Mendoza, Argentina and in Australia and they were awesome but you don’t always get advice on how best to sample the wine since a lot of places assume you’re already a semi-pro!
    Nice tips!!

  • Anais
    July 16, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I’ve tried drawing some air while I still have the wine in my mouth, but I choke every time! So I just don’t do it anymore 🙂

  • Rebecca
    July 16, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    These are such informative posts! They’re great!! Thanks! 🙂

  • Erin
    July 16, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I’ve enjoyed these wine posts. I’m not much of a wine drinker, but I’m trying to expand my horizons. I came home with a pinot grigio today to have with dinner. Good luck this weekend!

  • Cait (Cait's Plate)
    July 16, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    I’m loving this more and more everyday! Keep the good stuff coming!

  • Emily
    July 16, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    What is the etiquette on spitting out the wine? Do you spit into your glass, then pour the glass into the bucket? I’ve seen some people some spit directly into the bucket, and some others use the glass method. Thoughts?

    I find spitting anything in public so awkward… Help!

  • Sarah
    July 16, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Great tips, thanks girl!

  • ashley @ mom of 3 gets healthy
    July 16, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    ahh, I’m just getting back from a week vacation and I’m having the hardest time getting back into my routine! I don’t know how you stay on track with all the places you’ve been recently. I would love to go to a wine tasting! I could use a few glasses right now actually. j/p love the pic of you and kath!

  • Laura Brandon
    July 17, 2009 at 2:21 am

    I went wine tasting at a bunch of different vineyards when I was visiting my birth mother in Colorado, and it was so much fun but I had NO clue what I was doing! Thanks for this little tutorial!

  • Lizzy
    July 17, 2009 at 8:54 am

    I’m loving this post, Wine tasting for dummies. so many great tips! I’ve been wanting to go to a wine tasting for a long time, and i think i’m going to do that google search and see what i can find. I would really like to learn more about wine, so all your tips have been so beneficial to me! thanks so much!!!!

    Lizzy xoxo

  • Red Wine
    July 18, 2009 at 1:20 am

    What is the etiquette on spitting out the wine? Do you spit into your glass, then pour the glass into the bucket? I’ve seen some people some spit directly into the bucket, and some others use the glass method. Thoughts?