Learning about wine can be overwhelming because there are so many different types of wine and flavors to discover. When it comes to white wines, you can find everything from floral or dry white wine to oaked or fruity wine from across the world. Learning how to taste white wine can be daunting, but it is the perfect way to get to know different grapes, styles, and regions. By understanding the basics of wine tasting, you can explore white wine varietals and learn what you like and don’t like. While there is no “right way” to drink wine, here are a few helpful tips to get you started and have fun while you’re doing it.
How to taste white wine like a pro
Have you ever seen people trying wine before at a winery or restaurant? It’s easy to look at people swirling their glass and talking about tasting notes like they are wine snobs. It may seem silly to find a note of pineapple or peach in your white wine glass, but wine tasting is a crucial part of getting to know the aromas and flavors of wine. Whether you want to learn more about what you like and don’t like, or to start assessing wine, here are five easy steps to get you started with tasting white wine like a pro.
Preparing for your white wine tasting
Before starting your wine tasting, you need the right wine glass. It might be tempting to grab whatever you have in your cupboard, but a good wine glass will set you up for success. Wine glasses have a specific design to enhance the drinking experience of a wine type or variety, so if you have a white wine glass, that’s even better!
Serving your wine at its ideal serving temperature is also really important when tasting wine. You might want to serve a white wine straight out of the refrigerator, but this can be too cold for some wines. For white wine, the ideal serving temperature varies depending on the body and style. For light to medium-bodied white wines (like our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc), you should serve them between 45-50°F (7-10°C), while fuller-bodied whites (such as our Russian River Chardonnay) are better when you serve them at a warmer temperature of 50-55°F (10-13°C).
If you really want to get into it, make sure you have a notebook (or open “Notes” app) on hand to write your tasting notes. Taking notes makes it easy to go back to wines you enjoyed and compare the wines you taste.
Check the appearance of your glass of white wine
The next step is to pour a glass and assess the appearance of the glass of white wine. The pros recommend you do this by holding the glass of wine at a 45° angle against a well-lit white background (a piece of white paper is great to have on hand for this). Then you can look at the color of the wine and the intensity or saturation of that color. Of course, if you don’t have a well-let white background, just hold the glass up so that some light can shine through.
The color of the white wine will tell you a lot about the grape varietal, what the wine matured in, and how old the wine is. So have a look in the glass and ask yourself questions like:
- Is the glass of white wine pale from the edge of the glass all the way in, or is it a deeper saturation in the middle?
- What is the color of the white wine? Is it lemon, gold, amber, or something in between?
Look at the wine and write your notes before moving to the next step.
Smell the wine for its aromas
Taking note of white wine’s aroma is essential to assess its flavor characteristics. When tasting wine, your tongue will not pick up many flavors, but your nose is much better at identifying them. This is especially true with more delicate white wines like Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.
To smell a wine, first, take a sniff to gather your initial impressions. You may not notice anything at first, so swirl the wine glass a few times. Doing this brings some oxygen into the wine and helps release its aromas. The wine glass then funnels them up to your nose.
When looking at aromas in white wine, you should try to identify the flavor and intensity of these notes. Some dominant whites may have strong fruity or floral notes, while others may be more delicate. Once you have determined the intensity of the aromas, you can try to pinpoint the actual aromas. For white wines, these can range from fruity notes such as citrus lemon or tropical fruits like passionfruit to floral notes, mineral or even vegetal aromas such as cut grass or bell pepper. You can sometimes pick up notes from barrel aging such as wood and vanilla in wines like our Russian River Chardonnay. You might find broad notes like tropical fruits, or you may be able to be more specific with crushed pineapple or apple blossom.
Taste the white wine
Now we get to the fun part, actually trying the wine! When you finally take that first sip, there is more to look at than just the flavors. These are part of it, but you should consider whether the wine is dry, sweet, or somewhere in between. A dry white wine will taste very different from one that is sweet. You should also consider the acidity, alcohol, and body on a scale. Is the wine more acidic like a Sauvignon Blanc or softer and creamier like a Chardonnay? And does it have a light body or something full and heavy? Assess all of these components alongside the flavors that you are tasting. Are they the same as the flavors in the aroma, or do they differ? All of these notes come together to determine the flavor of the wine.
Make your assessment
Once you have gathered all this great information about the wine, you can make your final assessment of your glass of white wine. This comes from thinking about the finish, balance of flavors, and quality. Ask questions like:
- Do the flavors of the wine linger or disappear quickly?
- Did acidity balance the fruit flavors in the wine, or did one overpower the other?
- Was the alcohol in the wine overpowering?
You may want to enjoy the wine rather than make a final assessment, and you are allowed to do that! Wine tasting can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to assess the wine when you are a beginner. But the more your practice, the easier it gets to pull information out about what is in your wine glass. Doing this more often will help you work out what you like to drink over time.
Once you have finished your tasting, you can decide whether you like the wine. Maybe it is a wine you love to drink, or perhaps it will be something you would rather avoid next time. Whether you like sweet or dry white wine, drinking wine is about personal preference.
Make sure you taste in the correct order
Tasting more than one wine at a time can be a great way to compare different grape varieties, regions, or countries. But if you are tasting more than one wine in your wine tasting, having the correct order is essential to keep your taste buds sharp and ready for the next wine.
It is best to start with lighter-bodied, dry white wine first. Examples could be our Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc or other wines like Vinho Verde and Chenin Blanc. Then you can move on to more full-bodied white wines such as our Russian River Chardonnay or Viognier and sweet wines such as Semillon or Gewürztraminer.
It is also essential to note the age of the wine you are tasting. The younger the white wine, the fresher it will be, so it should be drunk first. Older aged white wine should be tried later in the tasting as it will have developed more complex tertiary characteristics.
Getting the most out of white wine tasting
There are so many wines to discover, from dry white wine to sweet and everything in between. Learning how to taste white wine properly will help you discover different grapes, regions, winemaking techniques, and vintages. It doesn’t have to be complicated and can be fun once you learn how to do it. You may find your new favorite wine!