Wine Tasting for Newcomers

You’ve booked your Napa Valley vacation and you’re ready to taste some wine! Now you’ve filled your glass at home with plenty of the good stuff but do you know how to really find what you love? The point of wine tasting is to discover what wines please your palate and varietals that you can return to over and over again. While there’s no right or wrong when it comes to wine tasting, there are some basic tips that will help you evaluate new wines to find the ones you most enjoy.

All St. Helena wineries will equip you with a high quality, clear wine glass during your tasting. You’ll see that the rim of the glass bends just slightly inwards to help the aromas waft towards your nose.

During a typical tasting, you’ll receive a flight (often one to three oz pours) to begin to compare. At the winery, they’ll set up the tasting flight from lightest (sparkling wines, rosés, then light whites followed by full-bodied whites) to the heaviest (light reds to more full-bodied reds followed by dessert wines). We recommend following this order to keep your taste buds open to the lighter wines before the big reds dry them out. A sip of water between wines can also help preserve your palate.

The first thing to notice is the color of the wine. It often helps to hold the glass up to the light or hold it against a white background, like a white napkin. Color can give you a clue as to the age of the wine. White wines generally gain color as they age. Red wines lose color. That is, young red wines are more red or burgundy while older wines tend to show a hint of tawny brown around the rim.

Swirling the wine with help to release the scents or “bouquet” of the wine. The best way to swirl is to move your glass in a circular motion by the stem. Or you can keep it on the counter and swirl gently, careful not to be too enthusiastic and have it spill out! Swirling is done to aerate the wine and release vapors which evaporate from the sides of the glass for you to smell.

Now it’s time to breathe! Stick your nose deeply into the glass, to the point where the rim grazes the bridge of your nose. Most wines have characteristic aromas of the grapes they are made from i.e. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, etc. The more wines varietals you drink the more comfortable you’ll get with identifying characteristics of your favorite types.

Scent will be the first indication of whether you like a specific type of wine. You may sense hints of vanilla, berries, peaches, or even grassy or smokey aromas. Each wine is different as is each winery’s approach. As you taste through the flight your wine guide with direct you on what to look for in each pour.

Now it’s time for the fun part, tasting! Start off with a sip that fills your mouth partway, not a gulp. Let the wine roll over your tongue and fill your mouth. What do you feel? Does it have an acidic feel? Sweet?  Do you notice the tannins in the red, or lots of alcohol or fruit? Does the wine feel “balanced” or does one element overpower the others?

Swallow the wine to note the “finish”, how it feels in the back of your throat. If you are doing a lot of tasting throughout the day and want to moderate don’t hesitate to spit it out. This is definitely not rude and a spit bucket is almost always nearby. Just make sure it is for spitting and not a vase!

Good wine should always give pleasure. It should smell good, taste even better, and be smooth and satisfying by itself or with whatever you’re eating. Some great places to wine taste if you’re new to tasting and the Napa Valley.

Beringer Vineyards
2000 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574

Clif Family Wines
709 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574

Flora Springs – The Room
677 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA 94574, USA

Merryvale Vineyards
1000 Main St, St Helena, CA 94574

Raymond Vineyard & Cellar
849 Zinfandel Ln, St Helena, CA 94574, USA

V. Sattui Winery
1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574