Lesson 6 – How to “Taste” Wine (Part 2)

When tasting wine, it’s critical to hold it in your mouth long enough to taste all of the flavors. The flavors don’t happen all at once; rather they come in successive waves. This makes distinguishing and evaluating them easy … if you know what to look for.

The first flavor to be detected is sweetness, or fruitiness. Sweetness comes from natural grape sugars and alcohol.  This is your first impression of a wine and will happen within the first 1–2 seconds of tasting.  This is called the wine’s attack.

The second flavor to be detected is sourness, or acidity.  Sourness comes from natural fruit acids like tartaric acid and citric acid and is what gives wine its “freshness,” or “tanginess,” or “life.”  Acidity serves to amplify and develop the fruity flavors initially tasted in the attack.  As these flavors develop, they become more pronounced and obvious.  This happens immediately after the attack and lasts 3–4 seconds.  This is called the wine’s evolution.

As the neutralizing effects of our alkaline saliva begin to dissipate the effects of acidity, the final flavor to be detected is bitterness.  Bitterness comes from tannins extracted from grape skins, stems and seeds, and from barrel aging.  Tannins are what allow red wines to improve with age.  This is the taste sensation you experience after swallowing the wine.  This aftertaste can be short or long depending on the intensity of a wine’s flavor. Generally, the longer the aftertaste, the better the wine.  This is called the wine’s finish.

When tasting two wines side by side, it’s always easy to figure out which one you like better, but sometimes it’s difficult to explain why you like it better.  By concentrating on the attack, evolution and finish of a wine, you will find it easier to evaluate its flavor and thus know why you like it better. And this, of course, will make you a better and more informed consumer.


The “homework” for this lesson is to do a blind, side-by-side comparison of two wines of different quality but from the same vintage and grape varietal.  As you taste them, concentrate on each wine’s attack.  (Which one makes the most dynamic first impression?)  Next concentrate on the evolution.  (Which one seems to come “alive” the longer you hold it in your mouth?)  Finally concentrate on the finish.  (Which one has the longest aftertaste?)  After recording your observations, unveil the bottles to see if your quality assessment agrees with each wine’s price tag!