How to Taste & Smell Wine— Improve Your Palate


Have you ever wondered how sommeliers and experienced wine tasters can often detect even the most subtle and delicate notes in a pour? At a wine tasting, you might hear people discussing a wine’s fruity, floral, or earthy aromas and the acidity, tannins, or body.

You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy wine. But learning how to properly smell and taste it can help you sharpen your skills and make the experience of wine tasting more enjoyable and fun.

If you want to deepen your understanding of wine and enrich your palate, the best place to start is by learning how to appreciate wine flavors and notes through all your senses — most importantly, smell and taste. Once you know how to take in the sights, aromas, and subtle flavors in a pour of wine, you’ll start to learn the wine tasting notes of common varietals and how to identify them.

Read on to learn how to taste and smell wine so you’re prepared for your next wine tasting trip or Tour DeVine helicopter wine tour!

Couple tasting wine and eating lunch in Oregon


The Process of Tasting Wine: 4 Steps

How you choose to taste your wine is completely up to you. Part of what makes wine tasting so fun is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert — there’s always more to learn and new ways to enjoy a glass. That said, learning a few basic tenets of wine tasting can help enrich the experience.

The term “tasting wine” really means “experiencing wine,” since the process involves all of your senses. So whether you’re a pro or a first-time wine taster, there are four basic steps to consider following with each new pour, which can help you appreciate and understand any given wine.

Here are four simple steps to follow when wine tasting:

  • Look: You can tell a lot about a wine by simply looking at it and holding it up to the light.
  • Smell: It’s always a good idea to smell a wine before you taste it so you can get acquainted with the notes.
  • Taste: Uncovering the flavors in a wine through taste is where it all comes together; a combination of larger and smaller sips can help you separate the individual flavors.
  • Consider & Discuss: Talking with your fellow tasters about what you see, smell, and taste can enrich the entire experience and help you analyze and appreciate the wine you’re tasting.

Let’s take a look at each step a little more closely.


1. Look: How to Take In Wine Visually

Visual cues can tell you a lot about a wine. Hold your glass up to the light (natural light is ideal, if it’s daytime and there’s a window nearby) and take a close look at the wine’s color, viscosity, and opacity. If you haven’t before, learning how to swirl wine properly can help you deduce these qualities in a wine by sight, since swirling exposes a wine’s “legs”. Swirling can also help release a wine’s aromas, which will help with the next step!


Woman smelling red wine at Youngberg Winery in Oregon

2. Smell: How to Smell Wine

Smell is an important part of wine tasting. It’s why tasters are always discouraged from wearing any strong fragrances to a tasting, as they can disrupt the aromatic experience. When you smell wine while it’s in your glass, you’re preparing yourself to taste it, and you can learn a lot about a wine from its aromas.

You don’t have to go about it too delicately either. When you smell a pour of wine, you can stick your nose all the way into the glass, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. This way, you’ll be able to really experience the range of scents you’re picking up.

Generally, there are three broad categories of wine aromas:

  • Primary aromas these are derived from the grapes themselves, and may include fruits, florals, and herbs.
  • Secondary aromas the result of winemaking practices like fermentation, secondary aromas often include scents like yeast, beer, or vanilla spice.
  • Tertiary aromas — these result from the aging process, either in the bottle or in oak barrels; they might include leather, cedar, tobacco, honey, or coconut.


3. Taste: How to Taste Wine

Flavor is, of course, an all-important aspect of wine-tasting. If you smell your wine prior to tasting, you’re likely to experience the flavor profile more fully. Comparing what you saw and smelled to what you taste when you finally take a sip is a great way to test your palate and see how the flavors interact with the aromas. Taste is not just about flavor though. It’s also about texture and how the wine feels on your tongue and in your throat and chest as you drink it.

When you take a sip, you can experience the taste more fully if you drink it slowly and circulate it in your mouth slightly. Generally, we can detect saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and bitterness. As you taste it, you can try thinking about how the wine is balanced among these four distinct tastes. Some wine varietals are balanced among the four, while others are unbalanced. Some wines, for example, are known for their bitterness, such as Pinot Grigio and tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, while wines like Moscato and Riesling tend to be sweet.


Consider & Discuss: How to Analyze Wine

Part of the fun of wine tasting is analyzing each pour, discussing the aromas and flavors you pick up, and learning about the wines you’re tasting. Take a moment with each wine you taste to consider its appearance, aromas, and flavor profile and compare it to other wines you’ve tried.

As you ponder the various characteristics and notes, don’t forget to ask yourself the most important question of all: “Do I like this wine?”


Smiling couple at wine tasting in Oregon


Smell & Taste the Wonderful Wines of the Willamette Valley In Style

Oregon’s Willamette Valley has become a beloved destination for wine enthusiasts from around the world. With an ideal climate, sustainable growing techniques and practices, and no shortage of smaller boutique wineries, the Willamette Valley offers a unique, intimate wine-tasting experience for beginners and experts alike. With Tour DeVine’s helicopter wine tours, you can experience the beauty of the valley’s rolling hills from the sky and taste the region’s best wines as we chauffeur you from vineyard to vineyard.

Don’t hesitate to contact us online or give us a call at (503) 687-3816 with any questions and book your tour today!