5 ‘S’ of Wine Tasting

While we may want to enjoy only one ‘S’ in wine tasting – sipping, there are 4 more ‘S’s we need to explore to truly appreciate a wine.

The 5S of wine tasting are : See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Savour!

  1. SEE

The things to look out for at this stage are:

* Colour – Red wines are hardly ever red. The colour ranges from translucent ruby to purple to tawny. Thin-skinned grapes like Pinot Noir have light ruby colours, while dark-skinned grapes like Malbec will have a deep purple colour. Similarly, white wines range from watery white to straw yellow to copper or golden colour.
* Clarity – This is to ensure the wine is not hazy and free from any cork particles.
* Rim variation – Difference between the colour of the body of the wine and that of the rim is known as rim variation. Higher rim variation indicates older age of the wine while a low rim variation indicates a young wine. White wines that have almost watery white rims are very young.

The colour not only indicates the grape variety but also the age of the wine. Red wines lose colour as they age while white wines gain colours as they age. 

In some cases, the rim of the wine can reveal the grape variety. Eg. Malbec typically has a magenta rim and a deep purple colour of the wine.

Also, oftentimes, deeper colour intensity indicates higher tannins and full body. However, some grapes like Nebbiolo are exceptions as the colour of wines made from Nebbiolo are light but they are very tannic.

‘Seeing’ tells you a lot about the wine even before you’ve touched the glass. The wine should be viewed in a well-lit environment by holding the glass against a white background, if possible. Looking at the glass can give you clues about the grape variety and age of the wine. 

But, if you are in the mood-lit environments of a cozy bar or restaurant, just enjoy the wine, as most of this information is already on the bottle!


The next step in wine tasting is to swirl the wine.

When the wine comes in contact with the oxygen in the air (after having been bottled up for so long), it ‘opens up’, becomes smoother and the aromas get enhanced.

Swirling also helps to coat the glass with the wine so that the legs/tears appear. The tears are indicative of the viscosity, alcohol, sweetness and sometimes the tannins of the wine.

If the wine tears move down slowly, it indicates that the wine is sweeter and has a higher alcoholic content (since sugar is converted to alcohol during fermentation).

In red wine, if the tears are stained, it indicates higher tannins from the grape skin.

Swirling is an important step in the wine tasting process. It can be done either by placing the glass on the table and making circles with the base or by holding the glass by the stem and rotating your wrists.

The standard pour of a wine is ‪1/3rd‬ or ½ of the wine glass. This is done so that the wine gets space to breathe and does not spill when swirled to release the aromas.

If you are afraid of spilling the wine, try it with water until you are confident enough. Because once you get addicted to swirling a wine glass you will do it every single time you hold a glass with a stem.


The third ‘S’ in wine tasting is smell. It is an important part of wine tasting because it sends a signal to your brain to identify the aromas and in turn, what to expect on the palate (taste). 

The only thing to remember here is ‘there is no wrong answer’. While certain grapes do have a specific aroma, it is absolutely ok if you don’t get that particular one. For example, the wine Gewurztraminer smells like lychee but a friend once exclaimed they had never tasted lychee and hence did not know what it smelt like!

You may get many types of aromas when you stick your nose in the wine glass, literally. These can be classified as :
Primary – Aromas from the grape. These can be Fruits, Foral, Herbs, Spices etc
Secondary –  Aromas from winemaking. These are the aromas of butter, beer, and bread.
Tertiary – Aromas due to bottle ageing or oak ageing – Wood, nuts, cocoa, coffee, smoke etc.

Smell the wine immediately after swirling it because that is when the aromas are most heightened. When we say the wine smells of strawberry or blackberry, it does not mean the fruits are added in the wine. It only indicates the flavour compounds of the wine are similar to that of strawberry and hence the wine is giving out those aromas. 

One of best way to know about these wine aromas is to go to a farmers market and smell all those fruits, vegetables and flowers. We only identify the aromas that are in our memory bank. Some of the interesting aromas in wine are, ‘fresh cut grass’, ‘old leather’, ‘wet dog’, ‘cat pee’!

Remember – there are no wrong answers!

Apart from enhancing the tasting experience by activating the olfactory sensation/perception, the smell is also important to identify if a wine is tainted or gone bad. If it smells of old rags, wet cloth or wet dog, it might be tainted.

4. SIP

Finally, the most-awaited stage of wine tasting – Sipping the wine.

In order to bring out the flavours, take a sip of wine and coat your mouth with it, like a mouthwash. Don’t spit or gulp it yet.

Take a bit of air through the teeth (practice with water to avoid accidents at tastings!) and you’ll be surprised to note the blast of flavours. As with the aromas, the flavours can range from fruits, vegetal, floral to nuts, mineral, and wood.

While our tongue can taste the basic flavour of sweet, salt, bitter, sour, umami and spices. Sipping a wine will also indicate the tannins (mouth-drying), acidity (mouth-watering), alcohol (warmth at the back of the throat), and the sweetness (dry, off dry, fruity flavours) of the wine.

Tasting the wine also gives you an idea of the texture, weight and structure of the wine. A wine is said to have structure when it has a well-balanced relationship between the acidity, tannins and the alcohol component and none of it is overpowering the other.

This step is where we confirm all that we experienced at the ‘see’, ‘swirl’ and ‘smell’ stages. Does the wine taste as full as it looks? Is the alcohol as high as the tears indicated? Do the flavours correspond to the aromas?

Sometimes the indications are validated and other times there is new information on the palate. In either case, it reveals more about the wine, grape varieties and the winemaking process.


The last of the ‘S’ in the wine tasting process is mostly up to you. It can be Savour, Summarise or Spit.

Summarise the wine if you are taking down tasting notes, spit it if you are at a tasting and have to go through many more wines, or simply savour it!

While spitting and summarising are common at tastings and while taking notes, savouring, of course, is the best thing to do. So enjoy the experience!

At this stage the things to note are:

  1. Complexity – does it have a lot of flavours or its one-dimensional?
  2. Length – also known as the finish, this indicates the duration in which you still feel the wine in your mouth after swallowing. Like the after taste. Is the finish short, medium or long?
  3. Easy-drinking – Is the wine refreshing, juicy, fruity, easy-drinking, or is it acidic and tannic and needs food to balance out the flavours?
  4. Potential to age – Higher tannins, higher acidity and high sweetness levels are all are indicators of wines that can age well. Age will smoothen these components.
  5. And the most important – Did YOU enjoy it? Wine is a very, very personal taste and should be savoured accordingly.

Cheers 🥂

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