Wine tasting can be broken down into four basic aspects: colour, swirl, bouquet (or aroma), taste and aftertaste.


At the Toronto Vintners Club, we usually taste eight wines, often from the same region, or of the same grape variety. It is much easier then to compare and contrast the wines according to the aforementioned four basic steps. Also, we have plenty of water and bread to cleanse your palate in between wines.



Colour is the first thing you notice about a wine. Colour tells you much about the wine. For example, white wines tend to deepen in colour from yellow to golden as they age. Red wines on the other hand, tend to change from red to brick with age. The best way to judge a wine's colour is by looking at it against a white background - a white tablecloth or napkin will do fine. There is a range of colours for both red and white wine. Here are some descriptors for colour:



White Wine Red Wine
Pale Yellow-Green
Straw Yellow
Golden Yellow
Brick Red




First hold the wine glass by the stem to avoid getting fingerprints on the bowl which would otherwise obscure your ability to see the clarity of the wine. It also prevents white wine from being warmed up too quickly. Swirling aerates the wine and releases more aromas or bouquet. Swirl the wine in your glass but don't get too carried away and splash the person next to you!


Bouquet or Aroma

Did you know that about 75% of what you'll want to know about a wine could be found in your nose? You can only perceive four tastes-sweet, sour, bitter, and salt-but you can smell over 1,000 different scents. Pinpointing the nose of the wine helps you to identify certain characteristics found in the taste. 

Smell the wine now that you have released the bouquet. What type of nose does it have - in other words, what does it smell like? There must be thousands of adjectives to describe the bouquet of a wine. Here are just a few to whet your appetite: Burnt, Fresh, Tannic, Big-full-heavy, Mouldy, Vanilla, Corky, Nutty, Yeasty, Earthy, Sulphur, Young, Flat, Tannic. Hints: Aging the wine in oak may add bouquets of vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and almonds.

Extended bottle aging may lend a toasty quality. You may smell old leather or roses. Other grapes have their own trademark aromas: Zinfandel often evokes berries. You may smell violets and spice when you encounter Pinot Noir, the primary grape of Burgundy. Among whites, Chardonnay sometimes smells like ripe apples and maybe coconut, figs and other tropical fruits, particularly if it's aged in oak. Riesling, the popular German grade, may also smell of apples and sometimes citrus fruits. Sauvignon Blanc often has a grassy smell and sometimes grapefruit.

Your sense of smell will recognize some of the defects of wine, such as vinegar (too much acetic acid in the wine); cork (wine absorbs taste of a defective cork); or sulphur (too much sulphur dioxide in the wine). Although used in wine making to kill bacteria and aid in preservation, a good wine should never smell like sulphur dioxide. Some grapes and winemaking styles may result in "barnyard' aromas which are not faults.


Taste and Aftertaste

Tasting does not simply mean taking a sip of wine and swallowing it immediately. Humans don't use smell and taste as often as they use the other senses such as touch and sight. So it stands to reason that it is more difficult to describe what we taste in a wine. Used the right way, your mouth can tell you a lot more about wine than you imagine. Your tongue has five taste senses - sweetness, acidity, saltiness, touch and bitterness. You can find them all by letting the wine sit in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. Try inhaling some air too before swallowing. It helps release the wine's flavour in your mouth. You don't actually have to swallow the wine in order to taste it.  Professional wine tasters simply swirl the wine in their mouths and then spit it out.  They are able to get all the flavour necessary using this method.  Whether you spit or swallow the wine, sit back and think about it for a little while. Did you like the wine?  Was it acidic?  If it was a red wine, were there tannins in the wine? Were they too strong? How long did the aftertaste last?  Was it a pleasant aftertaste?  Wine tasting is all about your enjoyment regardless of what others think of the wine. 


More Wine Education

There is a great deal of useful information on the Internet. However, there is no substitute for actually being able to taste and smell a lot of wines in order to improve your wine education. 


Learn How to Smell and Taste Wines

We have added this page to help less experienced wine tasters review the basic tenets of wine tasting. There are many things a wine can tell you while it sits in your glass.  Learning more about how to smell and taste wines will improve your appreciation and understanding of wines.  At the end of the day, it's all about tasting wines and grape varieties that you enjoy. 


And when you really get good at wine tasting,  you can tell with some accuracy what grape variety or varieties were used to make the wine,  what part of the world the wine is from, whether it's an old or young wine and what it is going to taste like.