Sip it or Spit it– How to Taste Wine for Beginners

Wine glass at dinner

Sooner or later, wine lovers venture through the doors of a winery tasting room. You scan the room. Then make your way up to the bar and lean your elbows on the counter. Someone hands you a glass and a tasting sheet. They pour a little into your glass. You take a sip of wine. Now what? Do you sip it or spit it?

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Sip it or Spit it: How to Taste Wine
But No Matter What– Enjoy it

Moments later, glass in hand, you are staring down the opening to 1 to 1.5 ounces of the winery’s driest white wine. There may or may not be a carafe of water and a tall spit bucket on the bar within arms reach. You are told the alcohol content, the specific grapes harvested, what food goes well with it and the occasions it is best suited for.

But they rarely tell you the proper etiquette or how to taste the wine. How do I know it’s a dry white? Because this isn’t my first rodeo, cuz. Don’t get me wrong. The most important thing is to enjoy whatever wine you choose. Don’t get too caught up in etiquette– enjoy yourself.

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Tasting Details

Tastings start with dry and end with the sweet, usually the closest thing they have to a dessert wine. I watched a couple enjoying their first visit to a winery recently and came away with a few pointers that would have served them well and just may make your next visit all the more successful as well.

How to Sip

Remember that spit bucket I mentioned earlier. You probably realize by now it’s not mere decoration. Wine professionals regularly sip and then spit instead of drinking the sample of liquid gold poured for them. Why? Well because most wineries offer 7-10 different wines to taste and many people enjoy visits to multiple wineries in one day.

A typical glass of wine contains 5 ounces of wine. Do the math and you’ll see that it won’t take long for you to consume an entire bottle of wine. A bottle you say? Normally that’s not a problem, but for obvious reasons that’s not a good look if you’re driving.

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How to Spit

In addition, you don’t need to swallow to “taste” the wine– your eyes, nose, and tongue do all the work. If you spit, be careful not to be THAT guy and dribble wine down your chin. If you choose not to spit, it won’t surprise you that you’re in the 99th percentile; less than 1% of the visitors to wineries spit.

See the Wine

Regardless, there are a few things to remember that will make you look like an oenophile:

See Wine. Note the color of the wine, hold the glass up to the light, and then against a white background. You’re looking for two things: color and intensity. Is light or dark? White wines like Chardonnay are golden in color while Rieslings are paler.

For red wines… is it ruby red or purple, is it transparent or more opaque? Hold up your tasting sheet and try to read it through the glass. If you can, the wine is probably light to medium-bodied, if not, it’s most likely heavy-bodied.

And while you haven’t tasted a sip yet, you have already discovered several clues to what you should expect when you do.

Sniff the Wine

I was originally told you only swirl red wines, but that’s not true. Hold the glass on the counter with your middle fingers and make small circles on the countertop to aerate the wine and get the wine to stick to the sides of the glass. Aerating the wine speeds up the evaporation of alcohol. And that allows you to really detect the aromas present in the wine. So what should you look for?

For white wines… tropical fruits, peach, green apple, and citrus. For red wines… black cherry, currant, plums, strawberries, pepper, etc. Don’t be afraid to stick your whole nose in the glass, its the best way to really smell all the flavors that go into each sample.

Sip the Wine… aka my favorite part of the experience.

Could you take at least three sips of each wine? At this stage, there are five things to note: body, flavor, taste, how it feels, and how it finishes. An analogy I love that helps me understand the wine body is if it’s a light-bodied wine, it is more like skim milk; heavy-bodied wines feel more like whole milk or heavy cream in your mouth.

Is it dry or sweet? Peppery or savory? Does one flavor stand out or is it harmonious? Does the taste linger on your tongue for a while (long finish)? Or does it go away immediately after you sip or spit (short finish)?

Using Your Tasting Notes

Use the tasting notes, to sum up, what you learned about each individual wine. Making these notes should help identify what properties you enjoy most (and least). And help you to read and understand the back label of any wine bottle you encounter in the future.

Wine tasting notes may seem like a lot to remember. But it becomes second nature after a while. And eventually, you’ll impress your friends and that other couple on their very first wine tasting. Ultimately, it will help you to select wines you’ll actually drink and enjoy at home. If not, you can always buy wines with a pretty label. Or just stick to bottles labeled red or white, sweet or dry.

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  1. Nina

    I just moved to a region of Spain with a lot of wineries. I need to go and do some tastings. This looks like fun. I’m not sure if I would spit though.

  2. Lyosha

    It doesn’t only apply to wine. I use similar tips in trying what so ever. I know a lot of people like wine so your post is a bit educational!

  3. Annemarie LeBlanc

    Interesting post. I love wine and wine tours are always something I look forward to when I travel. I have to put in more practice though. It just seems like every bottle, every drop is just delicious!

  4. Katie

    Thanks for your great tips! I love visiting wineries and learning about how wine is made. Surprisingly it doesn’t take long to become somewhat of a professional.

  5. catherine shane

    I had drink some wine but to taste it or to know the quality of the wine i really don’t know ., but now i think i learn to this blog thanks for sharing those tips .

  6. Alexandra

    Anyone who is not familiar with wine should refer to this post as you will learn a lot 🙂 I love my wine 😉

  7. Samanth

    These are such good tips for new tasters. I absolutely had no idea about the ‘spit’. Which is hilarious, no wonder I am more buzzed than everyone else!

  8. Liz

    Great tips for new tasters! My parents taught me this on my first wine tour, but otherwise, I would have just kept downing the glasses and someone would have to roll me out of there!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Funny. I taught my parents. We enjoy going to wineries together but they just started drinking wine.

  9. Dana Vento

    Everyone who is new to wine tasting should read this. The first time I went to a wine tasting, I just kept sipping and sipping. I was quite tipsy by the end. LOL

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You’re too funny. I hope I encourage a few new wine lovers to head to their local winery without feeling intimidated.

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