The key to identifying a wine lies in the combination of visual, smell and taste “triggers”.
Ideally hold the wine against a well-lit white surface and study the colour. White wines tend to darken with maturity or are an indication of the climate from which it originates. With red wines, the general colour depends on the grape variety regardless of age. The rim however is a good indication of age with more mature wines developing a “bricky” or “chestnut” rim.
Firstly, swirl the wine in the glass. Why? The increased air contact makes the wine release more of its aromas, and then take a big sniff. The smell of a wine is its taste. The majority of good wines display a wonderful diverse collection of pleasant smells categorised by fruity, floral, spicy, vegetal, earthy and woody. The key to being able to identify wines by their smell lies in constructing your own smell vocabulary, which can be built up by practising on the aromas you encounter every day.
Take a generous sip – and roll it around in your mouth. When wine-tasters suck in air through their teeth and make slurping noises, they’re aerating the wine in their mouth just as they swirl it in the glass before sniffing. What your palate is going to tell you about the wine is not its flavour – the flavours you “taste” in your mouth are actually “smelt” in your nasal cavity above – but its “structure”; that is, its “texture” (rough or smooth), its “body” (light or full), and its “balance” – the combination of elements such as sweetness, acidity, fruit, alcohol and, in red wine, tannin.