Wine 201: Wine Tasting Notes Explained

by Taryn Lachter

A huge asset in the quest for successful wine tasting is the notes that are written either by the winery or on various websites that catalog and report on wine.

It’s also great to know so as you taste your own wines, you can write notes for yourself! 

Although we all have different tastes, understanding the key elements of wine will help you know whether it’s something you want to try.

A huge asset in the quest for successful wine tasting is the notes that are written either by the winery or on various websites that catalog and report on wine. It’s also great to know so as you taste your own wines, you can write notes for yourself! 

Although we all have different tastes, understanding the key elements of wine will help you know whether it’s something you want to try. If you’re a red drinker because you like the tannins and buzzy, dry mouthfeel, you might not be interested in a bottle whose notes describe warm, full-bodied, and low levels of tannins.

When we’re tasting, there are a few factors we focus on that translate into the words we use for our notes: color, texture, and flavors. When describing the color of a wine, it helps to compare it to other things to get as descriptive as possible.

Think of red wine again. It’s never really just red, is it? We think of red as a fire truck or a cherry, but that’s not wine. Wine is ruby, or crimson, or burgundy. These colors can contribute to the flavor profiles based on the fruits that are involved in the fermentation. White wine could be golden or it could be pale yellow. A deep golden Riesling will probably be late harvest and sweet, whereas that really pale Sauvignon Blanc will be crisp and full of citrus. 

With wine, the texture is how it feels on your tongue as you sip it, which can refer to things like how dry it is, the body of the wine, and the acidity. If you take a sip and your tongue feels bumpy and tingly, there’s most likely a high level of tannins in there. You can also tell how full-bodied (or not) a wine is by how it literally weighs on your tongue. Does it slide right over your tastebuds or does it sit there and leave a heavy feeling? 

And then there’s the flavors or aromas. Take a sip, close your eyes, and envision the wine and the flavors you taste. Start naming them and writing them down as soon as they come to you. What fruits are coming out with a bang right off the bat? Take another sip and slow down, now think deeper, and start to pick out the undertones. This will get easier as you drink more wine (you’re welcome) and are able to detect the subtleties of things like herbs, tobacco, or oak. Picture these elements as you’re sipping and smelling your wine, and your brain will let you know if it’s a match. You may not even be right but your brain is picking up on relevant flavors – like if you believe it to be raspberry but it’s actually blackberry – those are related and your brain wasn’t too far off track.

With wine tasting notes, pay attention to the descriptor words that you’re reading and make sure you are also being as descriptive as possible when writing your own. Try not to write about the experience but of what you’re actually tasting, smelling, and seeing.



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