Wine Tasting 101

Sampling wine at a wine club wine tasting

Wine tasting - St. Helena, CA

When you first sample wine at a wine tasting, hold the glass by the stem or the base, so the warmth of your hand doesn’t heat the wine past its serving temperature. Look at the wine against a white background, such as a tablecloth, to see the wine’s color and clarity.

Place the wine glass on a flat surface and swirl it carefully to bring out the aroma and show the texture. Smell the wine, and think of the things the aroma reminds you of. It may help to get a copy of Ann C. Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel and study it beforehand. This convenient device, available from, has most of the words commonly used to describe the aroma of wine, grouped in categories like “fruity,” “woody” and “floral.” It even includes less complimentary terms such as “wet dog” and “hydrogen sulfide” which hopefully you will never need to use.

In wine tasting, texture and what is called “mouthfeel” are acknowledged as key parts of the experience. A good wine is full, rich, smooth and balanced. Its taste is much like its aroma, and is described using the same terms.

After you’ve swallowed the wine, take a moment to notice the aftertaste, or finish. With most foods, an aftertaste is something unintended and probably bad, but in the world of wine the finish is an important part of the experience. Drink water between wines, to clear the palate.

Wine tasting at a vineyard just outside St. Helena

Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards in Napa Valley, a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Helena, holds tastings in its barrel caves, where visitors can sample current releases and library wines and learn about the process of making and storing the wine. Cave tastings are $65, but one tasting fee can be waived by joining their wine club or making a $100 purchase. Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards produces world-class wines at affordable prices. The vineyard is a 40-acre estate just south of Howell Mountain, and has been owned and operated by the Anderson family since 1983.

One wine you might get to try at a wine tasting is the 2008 Èloge. This dark ruby red blend was born of a turbulent year with a cold, dry early spring, a cool late spring and summer and a hot early fall, producing a wine both rare and excellent. The aroma carries the smell of black cherries, chocolate, cedar, cassis, leather, mocha and crushed rocks, with a distant hint of smoked meats. The wine has a rich flavor of chocolate-covered black cherries, currants and plums, with hints of toffee, mocha and spices.

Anderson’s wines are sold online and in five locations in Napa Valley, and many other locations nationwide. Order some today.