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How To Sniff A Glass Of Wine


The ability to sniff out and untangle the subtle threads that weave into complex wine aromas is essential for tasting. Try holding your nose while you swallow a mouthful of wine; you will find that most of the flavor is muted. Your nose is the key to your palate. Once you learn how to give the wine a good sniff, you’ll begin to develop the ability to isolate flavors—to notice the way they unfold and interact—and, to some degree, assign language to describe them.

First and foremost, you need to be organized and focused. Find your approach and consistently follow it. Whenever you have a glass of wine in your hand, make it a habit to take a minute to stop all conversation, shut out all distractions, and focus your attention on the wine’s appearance, scents, flavors, and finish.

In this post, we walk you through the major steps of tasting a glass of wine, including checking the appearance, smelling it, tasting it, and finally, putting it all together. Let’s jump into it. 

Wine Tasting Steps

Whether you’re a veritable sommelier or new to wine tasting, following these key steps is important. Don’t be afraid to take notes or write down your discoveries; this is a great way to compare experiences across several vintages or keep track of flavors when blind-tasting wine. 

It’s also important to take your time with your glass of wine. Part of wine tasting is savoring the experience, which means drawing out each step of the wine tasting into an experience wholly unique from the others. Take your time, and appreciate each note, smell, and flavor the wine provides. 

Another important step in wine tasting is knowing when to take a break. If you smell the same scents in every wine or have difficulty distinguishing flavors, it can be a sign to take a break, maybe smell some new scents to “reset” your nose. Of course, you could also be experiencing a curated wine tasting meant to reflect the same aromas and tastes across several wines. Still, following your gut and taking breaks during wine tasting is important for the best experience. 

1. Appearance

The first step to checking the appearance of a wine is to pour a little (not a lot) into your glass. A white background works best for truly assessing the color of a wine, though any lighter background will do in a pinch. 

  • Take a moment to name the color: Is it a deep red, a refreshing white, or more of a pink? 
  • How intense is the color: Would you classify this as a bright red, a pale gold, or is it more deep purple? 
  • Check the rim: The edge of the wine is a great place to note different colors, like hints of orange and brown, that are unique to the wine. 
  • Does it cling: These clinging trails are known as legs and can tell you the thickness and sugar content of the wine.
  • Overall appearance: Is the wine bubbly? Is it clear, murky, or somewhere in between? 

There’s more to this analysis than just categorizing wines. Each step can tell you something important about the wine in front of you. For example, orange/brown colors around the rim of the wine are from aging, while bright purple signifies a younger wine. You can also assess the climate of the grapes used in the wine depending on the deepness of the color. 

2. Smell

Start by swirling the wine. This moves oxygen by the wine and loosens particles for you to smell. When you breathe in, do so gently with your mouth open for best results. Breathing in too deeply can numb your taste buds, so try and be gentle. 

Some of the smells you’re looking for include: 

  • Fruitiness: Since “fruitiness” is a wide category, start with different types of fruit and work your way to specifics. Is it a deep, candied scent or something more crisp if it smells slightly like apples? The more descriptive you are, the better. 
  • Flower scent: Think of roses, lilies, lilacs, lavender, and more flowers. Wine can have notes of violet, honeysuckle, and more, giving it a unique presentation. 
  • Spices: Wines often include things like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and cloves, giving it a distinctly spiced scent that you can pick up on. 
  • Nutty/toasty notes: Do you smell a fresh brioche bun? What about a cup of coffee? These notes are all part of the wine-tasting experience, so breathe them in and note the uniqueness of the wine. 
  • Other unique smells: Do you smell a faint hint of gasoline? What about a steak searing on the grill? There’s nothing wrong with your nose. These are all comparable scents for different types of wine, so note them down! 
  • Off smells: You hope not to smell vinegar or mold in your wine. However, keep a nose out for these less-than-pleasant smells when wine tasting. It can tell you a lot about wine quality. 

The smell can tell you a lot about the wine you’re drinking. The wine ranges from the variety of grapes used to the climate and region. If you notice a specific scent but aren’t sure what it means, ask one of the wine-tasting guides present (or your fellow tasters) to learn about that type of wine. For example, aged wine can have a stewed or baking spices scent, while oak aging can give vanilla, coconut, and nutty aromas. 

3. Taste

Now that you’ve looked at your wine and smelled it, it’s time for the best part: tasting the wine. Don’t start chugging your glass right away, though! Instead, take a small sip, holding your mouth open and swirling the wine around. This helps aerate the wine, opening up the flavors. Pay attention to not only the various flavors in the wine but also the mouthfeel, as this can tell you a lot about the tannin and alcohol content of the wine.

Some key tasting markers include:

  • Body (how thick is the wine)
  • Sweetness
  • Tannins (a drying sensation)
  • Bittern notes
  • Acidity
  • Warmth
  • Aftertaste or finish

Take note of these unique sensations, and sit for a moment to let the full taste and finish of the wine stay with you. Each flavor can tell you something important about the wine. A full body points to a warmer climate, while a high level of tannins tells you where the grapes grew if the wine was aged in oak and more. If your mouth feels warm after your sip, that can indicate a higher alcohol content as well. 

4. Combined Sensation

Finally, it’s time to bring all the sensations together. Before you ask yourself if you liked the wine, take a moment to assess how the different parts came together. Did it feel balanced? Was it intense or subtle in flavoring? Was it complex or more simple? How long does the taste of the wine sit with me? And finally, it’s time to ask the real question: Did I like this kind of wine? It’s okay not to enjoy every wine you try. After all, wine tasting is all about experiencing different flavors and exploring your preferences, so don’t be afraid to have much to say in favor of a wine you don’t particularly like. 


Now that you know how to smell wine (and taste like a pro), why not go on the Best Coast Tours Temecula Valley wine-tasting tour? This fantastic tour includes wine tasting, charcuterie, guided van rides, custom pickup locations, and vineyard tours, making it the perfect tasting experience. If you’re interested, reserve a spot today!  

From $134
  • Delight in Tastings at Somerset Winery, Oak Mtn., Callaway Winery, and Vineyard
  • Savor a Delectable Charcuterie Board at Oak Mtn.
  • Discover the Art of Winemaking with a Production Warehouse Tour at Somerset Winery
  • Uncover the Enchantment of a Wine Cave Tour at Oak Mtn.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Pickups from multiple hotels and Airbnb’s throughout Temecula