Lesson 5 – How to “Taste” Wine (Part 1)

The tongue is one of the most sophisticated sensory instruments known to man, yet many people don’t know how to use it effectively to measure flavors.  It goes without saying, however, that in order to properly evaluate wine, it is critical to be able to taste it correctly. While this may seem painfully obvious, there’s more to it than may first meet the eye … err, tongue.

Before learning how to “taste,” it’s important to know where different flavors are sensed. An interesting way to learn about this firsthand is to try the tasting exercise outlined below … preferably with a group of friends.  It will help you discover more about how and where the four basic flavors are sensed on your tongue.  (Do not omit this exercise!  It is key to all of your future wine enjoyment!)

When tasting wine it’s important to allow the wine to remain in your mouth long enough to taste all of the sensations.  They don’t all happen at once. Keep the wine in your mouth for about five seconds and focus your awareness on the different parts of your tongue as the various flavors come through.

You will detect sweetness within the first 1-2 seconds.  As the sweetness dissipates, sourness, and then bitterness will follow closely.  Remember to concentrate on the sugar/acid balance (see the homework below) between flavors.

Taste impressions come in waves of flavors one after another.  In order to effectively taste wine you need to mentally prepare yourself to think about each of these incoming waves.  In the next lesson we’ll discuss where they come from and how to evaluate them to determine a wine’s quality.  In the meantime, this lesson’s “homework” (after doing the tasting exercise below) is to consciously be aware of these flavor waves every time you enjoy a glass of wine!


Learn how to identify your taste areas by:

1. Making solutions of:
a) Sweet water (2 Tbsp. sugar to ½ cup water)
b) Sour water (2 Tbsp. lemon juice to ½ cup water)
c) Salt water (1 tsp. salt to ½ cup water)
d) Bitter water (½ cup bottled quinine water)

2. Taste the first 3 solutions.  Notice where the flavors are detected.  The sweet sugar water registers on the front of your tongue.  The sour lemon water registers on the sides while the salty water registers in the center.

3. Next tilt your head back and taste the quinine. Notice how bitterness is registered on the back of your tongue.

4. Finally, mix the sweet and sour solutions.  Taste them and notice the pleasant sugar/acid balance on your tongue.  (In essence, you’ve just made lemonade.)  Always be aware of this sugar/acid balance when tasting wine.