Host your own wine tasting like a sommelier

As we all get used to the ‘new normal’, many of us find ourselves yearning for a taste of some of our favourite haunts and activities. Lanzerac Wine Estate, one of the oldest estates in the Cape Winelands, has weathered many storms since being established in 1692 and has devised a simple guide to tasting and etiquette so you can host your own wine “event” at home just like the professionals.

Approaching wine like a sommelier

It’s not just about the drinking and sampling the flavours of the wine, but also to develop the basic wine tasting etiquette that you need to have in order to fully enjoy the experience. How you analyse and assess the look, smell, taste and mouth-feel of a wine are all important things to be aware of.

The look

This step is really only of fundamental importance if you’re doing a blind tasting because otherwise, everything that this first step could potentially tell you about the wine will be found on the bottle.

The “Look” step can help you determine the wine’s vintage, its age, and the grape variety used; but when this is already on the bottle you needn’t give your wine more than a glance, really. When looking at your wine you can give it a hearty swirl and assess the opacity, the colour, and the viscosity of the wine. When in doubt, making a colour comparison in conversation always seems to sit well with those who consider themselves wine experts.

The smell

Again, if you’re not much of a wine drinker, or your sense of smell is subpar; taking your cue from the label on the bottle literally cannot steer you wrong.

Smelling your wine is all about speculating as to the winemaking process, and what might make the wine unique. It may help to think in broad strokes first: does the wine smell floral? If so, does it tend toward citrus or more toward a tropical fruit smell?

It can be very frustrating trying to pinpoint a particular note, even for the professionals, and broad strokes is really enough to go on. Remember, there really is no right or wrong answer – nobody can tell you that you cannot smell citrus in a wine if that’s what you smell.

The nose of the wine can be divided into three primary categories, and this may help you think in the right terms to best describe your experience of the wine:

Primary Aromas:These will be the plant-based scents, and will be the most overwhelming. This will include your grape’s scent, as well as any herbal or floral notes.

Secondary Aromas: Your secondary aromas are those that arise as the result of the winemaking process. The most common secondary aromas are yeast-based and are most commonly detected in white wines and Mèthode Cap Classiques.

Tertiary Aromas: these arise as a result of the aging process. This is what gives wine an oaky scent, an earthy scent, a roasted scent etc. These are the scents one might best describe as dark or heavy.

The taste

Arguably the best part of the wine tasting experience: the actual tasting part. Remember, good wine is ultimately any wine that you enjoy drinking.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t still enjoy and learn about a complex wine or develop your palate. You can appreciate a sip, and the winemaker’s craft, without wanting to drink an entire glass of any given wine. You can appreciate an element of a wine without enjoying the wine, and this is a perfectly acceptable comment to make when assessing a wine.

Once you’ve developed your palate and can identify what it is about a wine that puts you off (the tannins are too strong, you don’t enjoy berry-noted wines etc.), you can articulate what you’re looking for and not looking for in a wine and this way you can find a wine that you might become your new favourite.

At the end of the day, your opinion is what matters with wine. There are three simple questions to ask yourself after tasting a wine:

Did I enjoy the wine? If not, why not? If so, what did I like about it?

Was the wine balanced? If not, what was out of balance? Was it too acidic? Was it too tannic? Too alcoholic?

Was the wine memorable? I.e. what, if anything, made the wine unique?

Here’s to a fabulous night in

The first and most important element to enjoying an at-home wine tasting is to choose a range of varietals to sample. Set two to three glasses in front of each person in the correct order to compare the contrast of colours, aromas and flavours.

Blind tasting works best here, so take note of the taste of each wine and then finish off with a delicious meal to complement your experience.