Want to know how to taste wine? Looking for the best tips to serve wine in the right way? Read tips from our wine expert Kate Hawkings below, and become an expert taster with a regular wine subscription.
How to choose the right wine
How much to pay for a bottle of wine: It’s well worth spending a little more on whatever wine you choose. While excise duty in mainland Europe is rarely more than a few cents, in the UK it is charged at a flat rate of £2.23 on every bottle. Once packaging, logistics, VAT and profit margins are factored in, this means that, on a £5 bottle, only 31p accounts for the wine itself, while a £10 bottle gets you wine to the value of £2.70. So the more you spend, the more wine you’re getting for your money.
How to choose wine in a restaurant: Choosing wine in a restaurant can be stressful, especially if you’re faced with unfamiliar things. The best way to order is usually to ask the advice of your server, telling them what you like, what you’re eating, and what your budget is.
How to choose wine in a supermarket: Wine apps can be useful if you’re faced with a bewildering choice on supermarket shelves. Take a photo of the label and instantly get details of the wine, ratings, users’ tasting notes and more. Try Vivino or Wine-Searcher – both are free.
How to choose a bargain wine: Wines made from unfamiliar grapes in regions off the radar often offer better value than their more famous cousins. Greece is making great wines now – look for assyrtiko if you like a crisp chablis, or agiorgitiko for a juicy, fruity red. Romania is a country that’s also worth watching, with some great-value pinot noirs as well as wines made from native grapes.
How to find a bargain sparkling wine: Drinking decent sparkling wine can be an expensive habit. Only wines made in the Champagne region can call themselves champagne, but wine is made exactly the same way, known as the méthode champenoise, in other regions of France where they’re called crémants. Look out for crémant de Bordeaux, crémant de Limoux or, my favourite, crémant d’Alsace.
How to read a wine label: Most cheaper, lower-quality wine is shipped in bulk containers and bottled when it reaches the UK, in which case it will have the name of the bottler on the back label. Wines made in the EU bottled at source are marked as such – ‘estate bottled’, ‘mis en bouteille au château/domaine’ (France), ‘imbottigliato all’origine’ (Italy), ‘erzeugerabfüllung’ (Germany), etc. However, there’s nothing intrinsically inferior about bulk wine, and it’s certainly more environmentally friendly than shipping heavy glass bottles, which is why more and more decent wine from the new world is now shipped in bulk.
How to serve wine
The correct serving temperature for wine: Serving temperature is really important to how your wine tastes. Anything above 18 degrees will make a full-bodied red wine taste soupy and overly sweet, so put it in the fridge for 15 minutes or so to freshen it up. Lighter-bodied reds should be served a bit cooler, so give them about half an hour.
How to chill wine quickly: Dying of thirst but your wine’s too warm? Chill a bottle quickly by putting it in an ice bucket (or a large pan) filled with ice and water then add a couple of tablespoons of salt. Alternatively, wrap the bottle in a wet tea towel and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
Which glassware to use: To get the best from whatever you’re drinking, choose a tulip-shaped glass with a fine rim and don’t fill it to more than a third of its volume. This means you can swirl the wine around the glass without spilling it to release all its flavour and aroma compounds. Find our guide to choosing the best wine glasses here.
How to transform a cheap wine: Decanting can transform a cheap wine, and further improve something costly, especially a full-bodied red or oak-aged white. Exposing the wine to air releases flavour and aroma compounds, and allows the wine to ‘open up’. There are plenty of fancy decanters on the market, but pouring the wine from a height of about 10cm into a jug does just as well. You can pour it back in the bottle to serve, which is known as double decanting. Here are our picks of the best wine decanters.
How to open wine without a corkscrew: No need to panic if you’re caught out with a bottle of wine but no corkscrew – all you need is a shoe and a wall, as demonstrated in this video!
How to taste wine like a pro, and use the right lingo
Swirl the wine around your glass then inhale the aromas to get the nose of the wine.
- Think of fruit – in white wines look for citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange); orchard fruits (apple, pear, quince, peach) or something more tropical (mango, pineapple, lychee) while red wines may show red fruits (strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, cherry) as well as black fruits (plum, blackcurrant, blackberry) and/or dried fruit (fig, date, raisin).
- There may also be floral or herbal aromas (rose, violet, elderflower, honeysuckle, oregano, mint, eucalyptus), spice (clove, cinnamon, pepper) or earthy notes (wet leaves, soil, smoke) while oak-aged wines may smell of vanilla, toast, tobacco, nuts and/or leather.
Then take a good sip and swish the wine around your mouth, as if you’re using mouthwash.
- A light-bodied wine will be thirst-quenching, like water, while full-bodied wines have a richer, more viscous quality.
- Acidity can be found in red wines as well as whites – it makes you salivate, like lemon juice, and gives wine freshness.
- A wine with a slight spritz is called pétillant.
- Tannins leave an astringent bitterness (think black tea) and generally come from the grape skins and stalks left in red wines as they ferment, but are also found in oak-aged white wines, and in orange wines, which are white wines left in contact with their skins after pressing.
The more flavours you taste, the more complex the wines is, and the more the elements are in harmony with each other, the more balance there is, which is sign of quality.
The sensations you feel when you’ve swallowed the wine is termed its finish, while how long the flavours last after you’ve swallowed determines its length.
How to pair wine with food
Don’t get too stressed out trying to find the perfect food match for your wine but there are a few things to bear in mind. Think of matching the weight and acidity of the wine with that of the food – a delicate fish dish or summery salad will go best with a clean, crisp white wine, while something rich and meaty will suit an opulent, full-bodied red.
Off-dry white wines may be rather unfashionable but can be far better partners to certain foods than something crisp and dry. The fragrant spices in Vietnamese and Thai dishes sit really well with the slight sweetness of a gewürztraminer, an off-dry riesling or a torrentés from Argentina, while a robust, fruity rosé works surprisingly well as an all-rounder with Indian curries.
Red wine with meat; white wine with fish? Not necessarily. An oaked chardonnay works really well with chicken or pork in creamy sauces, while a light red such as pinot noir, gamay or cabernet franc can be an ace match with seared tuna or salmon if you chill it slightly before serving.
Red wine is so often served with cheese but the tannins in the wine can make a horrible clash, especially with blue cheese. Far better is a sweet white wine such as sauternes, or a cream sherry.
How to use up wine: What to do with wine you just don’t like? Turn it into a simple sangria (which works equally well with white wine as the more usual red) by mixing it with soda or lemonade, or a mixture of both, and adding chopped fruit – oranges, lemons, peaches and strawberries all work well.