Wine tasting is a sensory experience; it includes aspects of taste, texture and smell to culminate and mesh into one overall impression. There are thousands of different wines to enjoy, each with a distinct flavor and characteristics. To help communicate the characteristics of different wines, we use many different descriptors; some of which may seem unrelated to the wine, but are nonetheless important. To better understand the wine tasting process, it is important to recognize the different stages involved; the 'in glass', 'in mouth' and finish of the wine all work together to give the taster the full experience of the wine.
A wine's appearance plays an important part in the tasting process. Different wines have different colors; the taster may form their opinion of the wine even before tasting, based on their experiences with wines of similar color. In general, lighter wines are, likewise, light in color. Heavier wines have a deeper color. Heavier wines also have more definitive viscous steaks, or legs, when swirled in the glass. The legs of a wine are an indicator of the sugar content of the wine. These generalities are true for most varietals. To help tasters maintain an unbiased view, some wines are tasted blindly; meaning that the taster is not permitted to see the wine's label or bottle beforehand. In some cases, the wine may also be served in black glasses to further deter any preexisting opinions to influence the tasting experience.
The 'in glass' characteristics of a wine are equally as important as the appearance of the wine. This pertains to the aroma of the wine and the sense that can be detected in the glass. Since it is through scent that the wine is first tasted, it is important that tasters have an open mind and palate. The aroma of wine uses many different and colorful descriptors to convey one's interpretation of the wine. It is important to recognize that each taster's palate is unique; two tasters may sample the same wine, but use completely different descriptors to define their experience. Tasting is not a definitive science, but an art that can be interpreted in countlessly different ways and is very much dependent on the palate of the taster.
A wine's 'in mouth' interpretation addresses the acidity, texture and body of the wine. It is more involved than just tasting and characterizing the wine with a single flavor; a good wine's characteristics work to create a multi-level tasting experience. As the wine settles in the mouth, the taster may experience different flavors, one after another, to finally arrive at the finish of the wine. The finish of a wine describes the final impressions of the wine as it is swallowed. Note that when tasting different wines, tasters may spit out the wine, instead of experiencing the finish; this helps to keep the palate clean. The finish of a wine includes how long the taste lingers and the texture of the wine in the mouth.
The following are some popular descriptors used to characterize wine during a tasting. Please note that each palate is different and will receive the wine differently. These descriptive are used to convey the aroma and taste of a wine in a way that can be widely understood.