The Best Wine Tasting Tips, According to a Sommelier

Looking to check out a wine tasting but don't know where to start? We chatted with a sommelier to find out how to taste wine, take notes and ask the right questions.

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Attending a wine tasting is a great way to learn more about wine and share time with friends. Many folks, however, aren’t regulars when it comes to the particulars of these very particular tastings. How do you sip wine? What are you looking for in every glass? What wine should you try first?

To take all the guesswork out of these tastings, I chatted with Camille Berry, sommelier and Taste of Home contributor. She filled me in on some basic sampling techniques and answered some of your most burning wine questions. Looking to sip at home? Be sure to avoid these common mistakes.

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Wine tasting

How do you properly taste wine?

Wine tastings are fun, but let’s be real, we all worry a bit about our tasting technique. Do you go right for it and sip? Do you swirl? Do you sip, swish and nod thoughtfully? Camille has the scoop on how you should approach each pour, following what is commonly referred to as “the five S’s.”

See: First, look at the wine. “Is it clear or opaque? What sort of hue does it have? Does it have any sediment? All of these things can tell you more about the wine,” according to Camille.

Swirl: Then swirl your glass gently. This will help awaken some of the aromas of the wine.

Sniff: Once you’ve swirled your glass, smell the wine. What kind of aromas can you pick up? Any fruits, florals or herbal notes? Does it smell like it was aged in oak? Camille says those wines can have vanilla, toast, baking spice, nut or coconut notes.

Sip: Then it’s time for the best part—sipping. Start with a small sip of the wine. Let it coat your tongue and palate (don’t swish it like mouthwash!). This can help you pick up on some more nuanced flavors of the wine.

Savor: When you’ve got a good taste, savor the wine. You can either swallow or spit. Ask how long the wine lingers on your palate. “This is the finish,” Camille says.

Did you know that using the right wine glass can help all five steps of tasting? Here’s how.

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Wine tasting
Alessandro Cristiano/Shutterstock

In what order should you sample wine?

If you’re attending a tasting at a winery or restaurant, no need to worry about this common question. The sommelier or expert there will have the wines in the order they’d like you to taste them.

If you’re hosting your own tasting at home with friends, Camille has a few general rules: “Always go lightest to most full-bodied/lower alcohol to higher alcohol, youngest to oldest, white to red, driest to sweetest, etc. This way you’ll get the most out of your tasting.” Be sure you’re prepared with ready-to-serve wine for your at-home tasting. These are our tips on how to store wine so it tastes its best for your party.

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Wine pour

What should you look for in a glass of wine at a tasting?

In any glass of wine—be it one of our favorite budget champagnes or a top-notch bottle—it’s important to pay attention to the different aromas and flavors. “Take note of whether or not wine is balanced,” says Camille. “The acid, alcohol, tannin (in the case of reds), dry-sweet and flavors should all be in harmony.” A wine that is well harmonized is worth a second sip.

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Outdoor wine tasting

What if it’s your first time tasting?

If Camille, our resident sommelier, could give one piece of advice to first-timers it would be: “Enjoy yourself!”

After that, Camille recommends that you not overthink tasting. Just relax, sample, be willing to learn and ask questions along the way. If you’re serious about wine and want to develop your tasting technique and palate, don’t worry if you’re not on pace with everyone for your first tasting. Camille assured me that this is a skill and it definitely can be learned.

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Wine tasting notes

Should you take notes? How?

Tastings are a great opportunity to learn more about wine and your wine preferences, so you should definitely feel comfortable taking notes. It’s not at all strange to bring your own notepad to a tasting, so don’t feel shy!

To stay organized and to get the most out of your notes, Camille recommends creating categories to consider for each sample: sight, smell, taste and finish. Notes, according to Camille, “help you learn how to better describe wines as you continue to develop your palate and improve your tasting skills.” Consider picking up a tasting notebook ($7) to keep track of your favorites.

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Wine, friends

What kinds of questions should you ask?

No need to go through your tasting silently taking notes or nodding along with the sommelier. Feel free to ask questions!

Camille suggests asking if the wine would age well if you wanted to store a bottle away for future use. “You can ask about the different winemaking techniques or aging regimen,” she says, or “ask if there are any similar styles made from less common grape varieties.” This can help you identify other wines you may like when you’re out shopping or dining.

If you’re an avid cook, ask what foods would pair well with a particular wine. Here are Camille’s tips for pairing any food and wine.

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Cheers with wine
Foto Cuisinette/Shutterstock

Lastly, what to wear wine tasting?

I get it: You don’t want to show up to an event—even a casual wine tasting with friends—looking out of place. When it comes to your wine wardrobe, Camille recommends something smart and casual. Think what would you wear to a nice lunch with your gal pals or a date night.

The most important part of preparing for the day, according to Camille, is to skip wearing perfume and avoid using any heavily scented soaps. “It inhibits folks’ ability to properly experience the wine,” she says.

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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is a former Taste of Home editor and passionate baker. During her tenure, she poured her love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa also dedicated her career here to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products for our Test Kitchen-Preferred program. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.