Sniff and Swirl

Drinking wine can be one of the easiest things to do but at the same time one of the most complicated things to do right. How can I make the most of a glass of wine from the moment I pour it until I drink it while simultaneously involving four of my five senses? We want wine to be mysterious and at the same time easy to understand; we want to choose what we like, but at the same time we don’t want to be embarrassed by saying we don’t like a wine highly rated by experts, or that we love a wine that everyone thinks is below standard. Is this a lose-lose situation? Not at all. If you’re just discovering wine, I am going to share a few easy tips to maximize your enjoyment with every glass. If you are a connoisseur you already know what you like and likely to already know most of my tips, however maybe you might have missed one or two of them.

Let’s start with serving temperature. Each wine is unique and we have hundreds of thousands available, so let me generalize with this tip – white wines should be served around seven to eight degrees Celsius for light white wines, and closer to 10 degrees for full bodied whites. If you serve wine too cold you will be missing out on some of its aromas. As for red wines, you will enjoy them the most if served between 15 and 18 degrees. A red wine served too cold misses on aromas, while if served too hot, the alcohol may take over the scents and tastes. How to taste? After taking a moment to enjoy the color of the wine, swirl it. This will expose the wine to oxygen helping it to open up, or in other words, waking the wine up from months or even years it has been resting in a cellar, hence bringing back the best of its aromas and flavors.

Next, smell it. What do you get? And apart from alcohol (if you are a beginner don’t despair, you will get better with time), there are many aromas that wine can bring, from vanilla, black currant and pepper in red wines, to lemons, pineapple or even petrol on white wines. Smell it again after a few minutes, and you may get more intense aromas or even new ones.

Take a sip, but before you swallow try to move the wine around your mouth, from roof to back, to tongue, as different flavor sensors are placed in different parts of our mouth. Note that flavor (sweet, bitter, salty, sour or savory) and taste (honey, sugarcane, molasses) is not the same thing: a wine may taste sweet but its flavors may be honey, caramel, raisins, etc. How does it feel in your mouth? Tannic (makes the walls of your mouth dry), light, silky or velvety? What about after you swallow? Too alcoholic, giving your throat a burning sensation? How long after you drink do the flavors in your mouth last? The longer the better, as you can enjoy the wine even longer.

Finally, how was the overall experience? Did you enjoy the wine? We are different, we like different things, so try to find what you really like, and enjoy it rather than drinking what experts say; quite often I prefer the not so expensive wines from a famous winery rather than the most expensive from the most famous ones, but that’s just me.


Alfredo de la Casa has been organizing wine tastings for over 20 years, published three wine books, including the Gourmand award winner for best wine education book. You can reach him at

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