The art of wine tasting

The art of wine tasting

It ’s almost summertime in the city of Cape Town and surrounds! Even though most of us are glued to our desks at the office or in class, it doesn’t mean that weekends should go to waste. Why not spend your Saturdays and Sundays exploring the exquisite wine estates of the Cape Winelands?

Stellenbosch is home to some 170 wine estates, while Durbanville produces excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The old wine estates on Constantiaberg are noted for producing Sauvignon Blanc, whereas Tulbagh and the Swartland are producing award-winning shiraz and pinotage.

Not sure how to go about tasting wine like a connoisseur, or simply need to brush up on your knowledge? Read on to find out what you need to know.

Four basic principles apply

Wine tasting consists of the following actions
1. Look
2. Smell
3. Taste
4. Reflect

Let’s break it down for you.


We don’t mean distinguishing between white and red! The look of a wine pertains to the colour, transparency and viscosity. Once the friendly wine tasting assistant has poured you a drop to sample, judge the look of the wine under neutral light (neither too bright nor dark). Sommeliers do this to determine the wine’s age, the grape varieties and the climates under which they were grown and to assess the alcohol, sugar and acidity content.


Now to sniff the wine. Wine aromas, too, can give you an indication of grape varieties and age, but also whether or not the wine was oak-aged.

Wine aromas fall into three categories:

1. Primary (tells you about the grape variety and the climate it was grown in. Aromas include fruit, herbs and floral notes.).
2. Secondary (accounts for the yeasty aroma of wine, due to it giving away details of the fermentation process. Cheese, nuts and even stale beers are often picked up on.).
3. Tertiary (also referred to as bouquets. It is most commonly associated with aged wines that have had time to oxidize, where the vanilla, tobacco, leather and spices are all common characteristics).

Ask the wine tasting assistant to guide you, and remember that what you detect on your nose is
completely subjective as everyone’s olfactory senses are different. Alternate between short and
long sniffs to get the full aromatic scope of the wine. Swirling the wine around the glass releases
more of its aromatic quality, but too much swirling could cause the aromas to disappear.


Tasting the wine is often done in conjunction with retronasal olfaction (breathing at the back of your nose). It is recommended that you coat your tongue with one bigger sip, and smaller sips thereafter in order to identify the complexity of the flavours. Again, what you taste is totally subjective since your palate is unique. Differentiate between sweetness, dryness, acidity and bitterness. Some red wines even have a slightly salty quality. You can even try to assess the ‘texture’ of the wine (how it feels on your tongue and palate).

Tannins are associated with red wines and can tell you whether or not the wine was aged in oak, and for how long. Picking up on tannins comes with experience, so asking the friendly wine tasting assistant for guidance is your best bet. And, of course, drinking wine often. Body (also to be discussed with said wine tasting assistant) pertains to ‘clues’ in the wine; the type of wine and the region where it was grown, most commonly.


Discuss the wine with your friendly wine tasting assistant/wine tasting companion and assess its
qualities. This is where things start to get poetic.
Also, make mental notes of what you picked up on while tasting for future reference.
Then decide whether you’d like to take a few bottles home or not.

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