If you want to learn about wine the easy way, wine tastings are the best way to go. You can get gather a lot of information by tasting several wines and learning how to distinguish the different characteristics among the varieties. An even better way to learn wine is to take notes during a tasting. Often times at wine tasting events, the host will pass around sheets for you to take notes on so that you can compare the wines and keep them for later reference. This is perfect when hosting a wine tasting for beginners. If you are the host, you can either buy tasting sheets or you can create your own. I’m going to give you the option for both, but by using the wine tasting notes template below to create your own sheets, you will get a better idea of how an event like this should flow.
For the person who just doesn’t want to mess around with setting up and printing tasting notes, you can buy some excellent sheets below.
Then there’s my other favorite for beginners:
For the rest of you DIYers, here’s the template followed by how to use it. It flows with the Five S’s: Sight, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Savor. Click the image to download it.
You can either print it out and use it as is or you can use it as a guideline to make your own.
As I said, the template follows typical wine tasting procedures and is really easy to follow once you understand the categories. So, let’s go through them.
Wine Bottle Information
The first step is to have everyone jot down the bottle information. All of this is printed on the front and back labels. Go through this slowly with your group so that their wine notes are complete. You want them to be able to keep their notes and reference them at a later date should they come across a wine they like and want to buy it later.
Wine: This is the name of the wine. For New World wines, this would be something like Silver Oak. Old World wines tend to name the Producer or Vineyard where it was made.
Region: This would be the wine appellation. Napa Valley, Bordeaux Superieur, Chianti Classico, etc.
Varietal/Variety: This is the type of grape used to make the wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot. Or you can list variety if it’s a blend. Blends will list the most used grape first. This is typically on the back label, sometimes in percentages.
Country: This, of course, is the country of origin, or where the wine comes from.
Winery: Either listed as a vineyard or by the producer.
Vintage: This is the year the wine was produced. Some wines are non-vintage. This happens when grapes are sourced over many vintages, especially with sparkling wines. You can put NV if there is no vintage.
Alcohol %: Simple enough, what’s the alcohol content of the wine?
Price: The cost of the wine, duh.
After you get through the top part of the wine tasting notes form, you can start with the actual tasting part.
First up is Sight. This is where you gauge the appearance of the wine. For red wines you want to note the depth of color. Is the wine thin, opaque, does it have a deep dark color? Look for rust, purple, brick, brown and everything in between. You don’t have to get too technical as everyone’s wine tasting notes may differ, so just get a general hue. It’s a little harder for beginners to tell the depth of color with white wines but you can note color hue. Is it greenish, gold, yellow, straw-like. Next, note clarity. Is it cloudy, kind of cloudy, crystal clear? Rosés will appear bluish gray, light purple or light red at the edges.
Once you get the color down, have your guests swirl their wine. This is still part of the appearance but also it will help open the wine for gathering the flavor profile. After swirling you can note texture of the wine. Watch for legs or tears running down the glass. This isn’t a measure of quality but the ratio of alcohol to water in the wine. A higher alcohol content will produce more legs and is typically considered more viscous. But it doesn’t necessarily impart a heavier mouthfeel. It’s just the alcohol pushing the water molecules together to form the “legs” effect as the wine settles back into the glass.
Smell is next. Raise the glass to your nose and take a great big sniff of wine into your nostrils. If you taste a particularly high alcohol content wine, watch your guests as they sniff and you will probably see many cough. That’s the alcohol filling their nostrils and choking them. You want everyone to get a general sense of the wine aromas coming off the surface of the wine. Have them swirl again to open it up more and take another sniff. Note any difference or change in the aroma.
Is there any smell coming off the wine? A quality wine will have a brilliant or powerful nose (aroma). Lesser wines will not have any nose at all and are termed “dumb” or “flat”. Note any recognizable aromas from the wine, like banana, leather, hay or wet leaves, for example.
The harder the aromas of the wine are to identify, the more complex the nose of the wine is said to be. Sometimes the winemaker will hint of aromas on the back of the label, but if you really concentrate you may be able to pick out some yourself. There is no right or wrong answer as everyone’s nose is different, but it is suggested to get some open dialogue going so people can compare their wine tasting notes with one another.
Once you have smelled all you can smell and your guests are impatiently tapping their glass, let them sip.
Your tongue is a primitive but fascinating tool. It tastes four rudimentary flavors immediately without thinking: sweet, salt, bitter and sour. Once you get past that initial point, you can hopefully start to discern other recognizable flavors in the wine. Dark cherry, apple, vanilla, smoke, spice and others are typical. It depends on the wine of course and every varietal has its own flavor profile, but you can largely get the same results from a group of tasters.
What you want your guests to do is swish the wine around in their mouth after they get an initial flavor. Draw in some air to open the wine more and let the oxygen and their saliva release more flavors from the wine. On your notes, jot down how the wine feels in your mouth. Is it thick, watery, somewhere in between? That’s mouthfeel. The heavier it feels in your mouth, the fuller the wine is considered. Is it rich in flavors, are the flavors noticeable right away or does it take a few minutes to pick them out. More complex flavors connote a fuller wine, a richer bouquet.
There are many ways to score a wine. For beginners, a simple bad, good, great can work. I like to do a point system. You can devise your own or follow one of the more popular systems below.
Wine Spectator’s 100-Point Scale:
95-100 — Classic; a great wine
90-94 — Outstanding; superior character and style
80-89 — Good to very good; wine with special qualities
70-79 — Average; drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69 — Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59 — Poor; undrinkable, not recommended
The Wine Advocate’s 100-Point Scale:
96-100 — Extraordinary; a classic wine of its variety
90-95 — Outstanding; exceptional complexity and character
80-89 — Barely above average to very good; wine with various degrees of flavor
70-79 — Average; little distinction beyond being soundly made
60-69 — Below average; drinkable, but containing noticeable deficiencies
50-59 — Poor; unacceptable, not recommended
Wine Enthusiast Scores:
95-100 — Superb. One of the greats.
90-94 — Excellent. Extremely well made and highly recommended.
85-89 — Very good. May offer outstanding value if the price is right.
80-84 — Good. Solid wine, suitable for everyday consumption.
As you can see, they are all more or less the same; but it gives you a general feel for how ratings are done so you can apply them to your own wine tasting notes template.