Wine Tasting Skills: Oz Clarke’s How to Taste Wine, Part Three

Wine tasting with Oz Clarke

Discover wine tasting skills from the Three Wine Men experts and make drinking wine an even more rewarding experience, one step at a time. Practise these skills at home or with friends and be raring to go at our wonderful wine tasting events! Find out more about our events at

Over to Oz, for part Three…

“At last! It’s time to drink the wine.”

Take a sip

At last! It’s time to drink the wine. So take a decent-sized sip – enough to fill your mouth about a third full. Draw a little air through your lips and suck it through the wine to help separate the aromas from the liquid, then start to enjoy all the personality and flavour that the fumes impart.

The tongue can detect only very basic flavour elements: sweetness at the tip, acidity at the sides (saltiness too, but you won’t find that in many wines) and bitterness at the back. The real business of tasting anything, not just wine, goes on in your nasal cavity. So hold the wine in your mouth, and consciously breathe out through your nose. The nasal cavity has millions of receptors searching for every scent and flavour known to man and ready to transmit the aroma straight to your brain. If you’re not sure about this nasal business – hold your nose and take a mouthful of wine.

Can you taste anything? No. Then release your nose, breathe out through it – and your mouth will fill with flavour. All the flavours that give us so much pleasure in our daily eating and drinking are carried from our mouth to our brain by aromas we breathe up into our nasal cavity.

Evaluate the wine

Ideally make a few notes: jot down first impressions, then record the taste that develops after the wine has been in your mouth for a few moments. First note any sweetness, acidity and tannic bitterness that your tongue detects. Some flavours are upfront and unmistakable, others shift subtly, just out of reach. A few words jotted down and the flavour can come flooding back. And if you really want to become a good wine taster, your memory is as important as your palate. And stay relaxed. This is supposed to be fun. The more tense you are, the less likely you are to enjoy the wine – or remember what it tastes like.

Swallow or spit it out

Why do wine tasters spit wine out after they have tasted it? Quite simply, it’s the only way to taste a lot of wines and remain sober. I often have to taste and make notes on 100 wines at a time and the spittoon can easily hold the equivalent of two to three bottles of wine – all spat out by me. Winetasters like a drink as much as the next person – but not when we are ‘tasting’. We’re trying to stay sober and make accurate, useful judgements on all the wines that we can refer to later. If you’re visiting a producer’s cellar or attending a professional wine-tasting, believe me, spit.

At home, if you’ve organized a tasting session – well, if no one’s driving – you could all just sit around the kitchen table and get happy. But if you want to do it the proper way, you don’t need a special spittoon, just use a bucket, preferably placed on some newspaper; if you and your friends aren’t practised spitters you could make a right old mess otherwise. And when you’ve spat – OK, or swallowed – make one final mental or actual note on any lingering aftertaste. And decide whether you liked the wine or not – and why.

Extracted from Oz Clarke’s Let Me Tell You About Wine, published by Pavilion Books. Image credit to Pavilion Books, RRP £14.99, available to order from all good bookshops and online retailers including Amazon here

We hope you enjoy practising these wine tasting skills!  The next post is all about the building blocks of wine…

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