Appreciating wine is a fine art. Develop the skills with these tips.
In the case of wines, looks can’t be deceptive. Tilt the glass away from you, preferably against a white background, exposing the different shades of colour (the more the better), especially at the rim where the age of a wine tends to show. The browner a wine the older it usually is. Red wines tend to go from deep purple to pale tawny while whites go from pale greenish yellow to deep gold. In very general terms, the best wines actually have a luscious sheen to them, while commercial, heavily treated ones can look dull and monotone.
You really can tell by your nose! Just one short sniff while you concentrate is enough. This is done by swirling the wine round in a glass, ideally with a stem so that a graceful movement, which has no effect on the wine's temperature, can be achieved. Notice whether the smell is clean and attractive (if not, either reject the wine as faulty, or deliberately avoid smelling it as you drink!); how intense the smell is; and what the smell reminds you of. Just for your knowledge, the aroma from the grape is known as a primary aroma, that from the wine-making secondary and those aromas associated with the ageing process are called tertiary.
Tasting is believing! Take a mouthful of wine and try to ensure that all of the palate, or at least all of the tongue, is exposed to the liquid. Notice how sweet, sour/acid, bitter, tannic/astringent, alcoholic and gassy the wine is. Try to gauge the wine's body i.e. how unlike water it is. It also helps draw vapour up the nasal passage that links the back of the mouth with the nose if a little air is taken in to the mouth at the same time (which is why professional wine tasters can look and sound so disgusting).
Now is the moment to try and assess the wine as a whole. Were the dimensions of sweetness, acidity, alcohol and the possible elements of bitterness, tannin and gassiness in balance? In young red wines, for example, tannin often dominates, while young whites are often very acid. This lack of balance would be a fault in an older wine.
The other great indicator of quality is length – how long did the impact of the wine last after you swallowed it? Many a mediocre wine leaves no trace either on the palate or in the olfactory area, whereas a mouthful of really fine wine can continue to reverberate for 30 seconds or more after it disappeared down the throat. Talk about staying power.