How Do You Taste Wine? Questions Explained by a Sommelier

June 3, 2021
How Do You Taste Wine? Questions Explained by a Sommelier

People are always asking me how to taste properly. So we include it in each of our virtual tasting classes. But we’re going to go over some frequently asked questions and answers when tasting wine….

10 Wine Tasting FAQs answered:

1) What are the 5 S’s in Wine Tasting?

For those of you who know about the “5 S’s” that’s pretty cool! It’s not super common to know about it but I think it sticks in people’s minds because they all start with the letter S!

So the 5 S’s people are referring to are:- See– look at the wine: the color, viscosity, if there’s any gas or sediment.- Swirl– oxygenate the wine to release new aromas.- Sniff– smell the wine to pick up the flavorful notes.- Swish– Swish the wine around in your mouth so that your entire palate can taste every aspect.- Swallow– You can either spit or swallow the wines at this point feeling for the heaviness of the alcohol, the texture of the wine and the length of the finish. 

When we do our wine tastings, I tack on three more S’s: SmellSip, & Savor. But to learn about those, you’ll have to sign up for our virtual tasting experience.

Sommeliers Use the 5 S’s to Taste Wine

As sommeliers, we use a systematic approach to tasting wine. Each step reveals a different aspect of the wine, from its visual appeal to its complex aromatic notes and flavors. This method enhances our understanding of the wine and heightens our overall sensory experience, making tasting an enriching journey rather than a mere act of consumption.


The first “S” stands for “see.” Hold your glass of wine against a white background and observe its color intensity. The color hints at the wine’s age and grape variety. White wines tend to darken with age, while red wines become lighter and more transparent. This visual examination is the starting point of our sensory exploration. In addition, the clarity can tell you about the wine’s quality and condition; a hazy appearance might suggest faults or flaws.


Next, you “swirl” the wine in the glass. This simple action oxygenates the wine and releases its primary aroma compounds directly related to the grape variety. The swirling motion also allows you to observe the wine’s body — how the liquid moves can show the level of alcohol and sugar. The legs or tears that run down the side of the glass after swirling can provide clues about the wine’s viscosity, sugar, and alcohol content.


The third “S” represents “sniff.” Place your upper lip above the bottom rim of the glass and open your mouth. Lean in and take a deep breath. What do you smell? The nose of the wine reveals a world of aromatic notes. Primary fruit, flower, or spice aromas may jump out at you. Secondary aromas, derived from the winemaking process, might suggest bread, yeast, cream, or smoke. This stage can evoke memories and emotions as the sense of smell is closely related to them. Also, sniffing the wine can help identify off-odors that might indicate problems like cork taint or oxidation.


Now, we “sip.” Let the wine flow over your palate and engage your sense of taste. Is the wine dry or sweet? Can you taste the fruit flavors you smelled earlier? Perhaps you can detect some acidity, which adds freshness and/or balances the sweetness. You might also notice tannins, which are naturally occurring compounds that give the wine its structure and can create a drying sensation in the mouth. Furthermore, the temperature of the wine can affect your perception of its flavors and body, so it’s important to serve the wine at the correct temperature.


Finally, we “savor.” After swallowing, take a moment to reflect on the wine’s finish. How long do the flavors linger on your palate? A long-lasting finish is often a sign of a high-quality wine. This is also a great time to notice changes in the wine’s flavor profile. Did new flavors emerge? Did the balance of sweetness, acidity, and tannins shift? Lastly, consider the overall balance and harmony of the wine. A well-balanced wine will have its flavors, acidity, tannins, and alcohol seamlessly integrated, leaving you eager for the next sip.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong when tasting wine. It’s all about your personal experience and enjoyment. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, engage your senses, and embark on this flavorful adventure.

2) Do Wine Tasters Get Drunk?

Well, that’s a great question. The answer? Sometimes. No matter how often you spit the wine and not swallow, if you taste enough of it, your palate gets tired and the alcohol that you were tasting does get you a little tipsy. But if you DO get drunk, DO NOT DRIVE HOME.

3) What are the Four Types of Wine?

There are more than just four types of wine but these four types mostly referred to are red, white, rosé and sparkling. There’s also fortified, dessert and each of the original four categories have many individual categories. But knowing these 6 styles is important.

4) Is Wine Healthy to drink?

Wine is healthy to drink in moderation. It is true that wine does contain ethanol alcohol which is poison to the body, but there are so many healthy benefits within the skins of the grapes and the juice. You can read more about wine’s health benefits in another blog post we wrote here: The Health Benefits of a Glass of Red Wine

5) How do you know if a wine was aged in oak?

I get this question a lot, and I often get people saying “this wine smells oaky.” Wines don’t smell oaky! The toasted oak barrels provide an extra layer of flavor into the wines. What flavors do oak impart? The main flavors are vanilla, baking spices, coconut or dill. These will help you determine if a wine is aged in oak. There are also oak tannins which indicates long aging in oak, and oak helps to alter the body of the wine, giving it more breadth and more roundness.

6) Why do I get headaches when I drink wine?

This really depends on the wine. If you’re drinking a wine with residual sugar, then it’s going to be a combination of the alcohol and the sugar. Residual sugar (aka RS) is the itty bitty last bits of sugar that winemakers sometimes like to keep instead of turn into alcohol. So when a grape is picked and then begins fermentation, you can ferment it all the way to alcohol, or leave some in like 2g/l. This helps to balance any overtly alcoholic flavors in the wine as well as make a hefty wine more approachable. I do want to make this very clear IT IS NOT THE SULFUR. That’s always considered the culprit but winemaking standards have made it very hard to over sulfur your wines. In fact, there is more sulfur in white wines than red wines. Just find wines that have no RS, and drink water in between glasses!

7) How would you describe the taste of wine?

There are so many descriptors out there but here are some of the basic ones:

– Fruit flavors (stone fruits, orchard fruits, tropical fruits or berries?)

– Earthy Flavors (mineral, chalky, wet stone, forest floor, damp earth, tobacco, tomato leaf)

– Oak (baking spices, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, coconut, vanilla)

8) Does wine taste like grape?

So many people when I taste with them and ask them what they taste, they just say “grapes!” And yes, if you’re drinking Muscat or Gewurtztraminer  you may absolutely be smelling grape, they smell just like a grape soda. But most other wines have deeper flavors than just grape. So use the flavors above and think back to those other fruits to find the flavors within the wine.

9) What is a rich wine?

A rich wine is one that is filled with lots of flavor, complexity and is heavy or bold. A full bodied wine is a rich wine. Common rich varietals are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Syrah.

10) What is the best tasting wine?

Well, obviously its AJA Vineyards Malibu Coast wines. That’s why you’re reading this article right? Check out our store and find the wine that fits your palate today!

Now that you’re a pro, sign up for our Virtual Tasting experience and taste with us! We hope to see you soon!

2 responses to “How Do You Taste Wine? Questions Explained by a Sommelier”

  1. How interesting that you mention how most wines don’t actually taste like grapes. My husband loves wine and his birthday is next week.

  2. Thank you for telling us about the different basic flavors and what flavors make those up, for wine. My husband and I love wine and it is our anniversary next week. We will find an excellent wine-tasting place to celebrate. https://www.corknknife.com/

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