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The wine- tasting process shouldn’t be rocket science when you follow some simple “S” guidelines. One of the 5 S’s of wine tasting is “Smell” or “Sniff,” also known as the wine’s nose or aroma. Photo courtesy DAOU Vineyards
ColumnsTaste of Wine

Getting to the root of wine tasting

The tasting of fine wine is really a celebration of life, especially when it’s accompanied by flavorful food that enhances the event. Add special friends to the ingredients and you have a memory that can last a lifetime.

A fun set of “guidelines” based on the letter S made a lot of sense to me when I first began to realize that life in the world of wine can be so enhanced by following the gentle road laid out for us by the beautiful curves of the letter S.

Let’s begin this odyssey with our first consideration, that of sight. Hopefully you have chosen a wine glass of thin, long stemmed beauty (I recommend Riedel glasses) that actually can improve aroma and taste. Capacity of most of the fine wine glasses range from 12 ounces to 18 ounces. This sets the stage for our preferred wine in our test tasting, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 vintage.

After some aerating, allowing the wine to “breathe,” by opening it, you are ready to pour about three to four ounces of wine into your glass, and the start of your journey of sight.

Here, you examine the wine, get a good look at it for clarity and density. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon. You are viewing from the top of the glass. It should be a deep rich pool of dark red purity. If it’s hazy, you detect a twig or other foreign matter like sediment, it’s a failure and should not be consumed. You should be viewing a portrait with rich color and texture.

The next step is to swirl the wine, to prepare the wine for the next important phase, the sniff and smell. The swirl is affected by holding the stem tightly and moving the glass in a sharp, tight circle clockwise or counter-clockwise, but not so hard the wine spills over the side. You are mixing oxygen with the wine to aerate the contents, releasing aromas that are trapped in the wine. At the same time, the wine’s surface area on the inside of the glass is displaying “legs” or residue of evaporating alcohol. If the lines are thick then you have a high degree of alcohol in this body of wine, traditionally about 14 percent in Cabernets. By law, a wine’s label will reveal its alcoholic content.

The smell or sniff of the wine is called the “bouquet,” a true expression since, like flowers, only the best grapes are bundled into a bottle bouquet for family and friends. I recommend smelling the wine several times to fill your palate with the aroma of the wine.  The best technique is to get your nose down into the glass close to the wine. Take short, deep inhaling breathes and think about what you are smelling. Young wines smell more fruity, while older vintage wines with time in the bottle smell more like the earth and minerals. A strong scent can take its place among the better perfumes. Don’t analyze too much, just revel in the sensation. Now it’s time to Sip and Swallow, our final two S’s, a most enjoyable climax to this five-part harmony of wine, to discover the wines you really love. After the sip, but before the swallow, let the wine linger on your palate and tongue.  We have many taste buds. Let them all have an opportunity to trigger flavors like fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, spices, flowers, earth, oak, butter and … (you fill in the rest).  Maybe all you taste is wine and that’s OK, but over time, a wine’s character is expressed by describing its flavors.

When you are ready to swallow, note the finish of flavors in the wine. How long did it last, seconds, even a minute.

So there it is, the classic five S’s of wine tasting: Sight, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Swallow.  Try it with other varietals of wine, to arrive at the wine you love.

Wine Bytes

• Poway Onstage is an evening of fine food, local wine and craft beer to support the arts, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. June 16 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts. Key performer is well-known pop-rock artist Evie Selis. You’ll taste from over 25 of the better known restaurants. Price is $100 each. Phone (858) 668-4798 for details or check out

• Willamette Oregon Wine Cheese and Charcuterie will be the next event at The Wine Barrel in Rancho Bernardo at 2:30 p.m. June 16. Four of the region’s best known wines will be tasted in the region known as “Little Burgundy.” Cost is $35 each. Check it out at

• MiraCosta College at the Cardiff location will have a “Rose’ All Day,” three-week wine class, starting Monday June 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. It’s a fun and festive class about the hottest selling varietal in the wine industry. Find out how Rose’ is made and taste some classic pairings. Cost is $79 tuition, $60 class fee. Call (619) 980-2135.

• Roll Out the Barrels in SLO Country (San Luis Obispo) June 21 to 23. Tickets available for Barrels in the Plaza on Thursday, and the SLO Wine Country passport Friday and Saturday. Package price $130. Check out all details at