You don't really need to spend more than 5 seconds on this step, although it's great practice! A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance, and the answers that those clues provide can be checked on the bottle (i.e. alcohol content, grape variety, winemaking techniques, aging processes). For best results, we recommend observing your wine in natural light or with a white piece of paper held up behind it.
If you're tasting sparkling wine, be sure to take note of the color and bubbles. Colors range from white, yellow, pink, and orange, depending on the grape(s) used and the amount of contact the wine had with the grape skins (more contact leads to darker wine.) Smaller bubbles that slink up in tiny chains tend to indicate that the wine was aged longer- signifier of good quality.
Common vocab words: lively, graceful, golden, bright, pale
Identifying smells beforehand makes tasting flavors in wine easier. If you're tasting still (non-sparkling), start by swirling the glass to aerate the wine and release it's aromas.
For Sparkling wine, there's no need to swirl. Just enjoy as the bubbles bring the aromas to the surface. Sparkling wines are known for subtle scents of fruits, florals, nuts, caramel, honey, or yeast nuances. Upon first whiff, think big to small. Are there fruits? Go by broad categories first (like citrus, orchard, or berries). Then, narrow down to specifics.
Common vocab words: floral, fruity, yeast, delicate, nutty,honey
Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid (this varies with climate and grape type). Very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances salty reds and whites exist.
Sparkling wine is particularly famous for its acidity. Take a sip and ask yourself - Can you feel the acid on the back sides of your tongue? Is it harsh on your tongue or is it smooth? What flavors do you taste? Fruity, floral, or nutty? There's no wrong answer, but relate it to flavors that are familiar to you! Do flavors match the aromas from earlier?
Finally, take note of the wine's texture. Because quality sparkling wines have little to no tannin, they generally have smooth, creamy finishes that linger on the palate for minutes.
Common vocab words: floral, vanilla, nutty, brioche, creamy, sharp, sweet, dry, intense, fruity, bright, structure, smooth, acidity.
The moment of truth- did you like it? The more you taste, the more you start to get a feel for what qualities you like, and which sparkling wine you love most.
5. Extra Credit
Now that you've drawn your own conclusions, refer to the tasting notes associated with the wines you tasted (which can be found on the wine's product detail page). These indicate which grapes were used, from which vineyards and unique aspects of a particular harvest, which can provide some context for the wines characteristics.
If you found this interesting, you'll love Club Chandon. Consider joining to delve deeper into the craft and tasting of California's finest sparkling.