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Swirl Before You Sip—Winetasting for Sommelier Wannabes, Part I

When ordering a wine at your favorite restaurant, expect the sommelier to bring out the bottle so that you can inspect the label before he or she opens it. Check that the winemaker as well as the date matches the one you specified. That’s step one. But do you know what to do after your wine steward pours you a glass? If you want to impress your sommelier as well as your date, keep reading. We’ll walk you through the 5 S’s of a sommelier-approved winetasting.

See
Examine the color of the wine in your glass. Don’t stop at labeling it red or white—is it burgundy? Greenish gold? Brick or ruby red? Be specific.

Swirl
To release the bouquet of your wine, swirl it in your glass. The wine that hits the side of your glass is known as its legs. If someone tells you the legs denote how full-bodied your blend is, they’re either wrong or trying to make you look dumb. Don’t fall for it. Legs are legs, but they’re really irrelevant.

Wine snobs may scoff if they don’t think other diners hold their glasses correctly. Allow us to clear this matter up for you—for white wine, hold your glass by the stem. It’s not about looking fancy or more cultured than the rest of your party. Since white wine is served slightly chilled, you want to hold it by the stem to avoid warming it up with heat from your hand. That’s the only reason. It doesn’t matter how you hold your glass of red wine. (But don’t drink it through a straw. Duh.)

Sniff
After shaking up your wine’s fragrance, try to identify what you smell. Do you detect a note of licorice, mushrooms, chocolate or blackberries? Keep an open mind when identifying the wine’s varied notes. Many wines feature unique and even unappealing (at first, anyway) scents. Expert winetasters can identify leather, earth, leaves, hay, metal, rubber and even gasoline. Complex wines have several elements to their aroma, try to identity each.

Sip
Wine may be the only drink you can swirl without offending your dining mates. After taking a sip of your wine, swish it around in your mouth.

Savor
Or spit. The fifth of the 5 S’s of winetasting depends on who you ask or how much wine you’re tasting. Savor your wine if you want to enjoy a glass or bottle you order at a restaurant. At a winetasting event where you’ll sample a large quantity of wine, spit it out after sipping. Spitting is preferred when you’re sampling many wines so that the alcohol you ingest doesn’t interfere with your sensory perception. Tasting bars should provide opaque cups for you to spit clandestinely.

Tips and customs for winetasting are as complex as the wine itself. Keep an eye out for more winetasting tips in part two.