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Actually Smell and Taste Wine.

The Systematic Approach to Tasting (SAT)

So, if you remember from last time, there is a structure that helps you to identify and document the characteristics of wine. It's a helpful standardized approach to tasting, aptly named the Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine (SAT).

Not the SAT you took in grade school. This is so much better!

To really enjoy the taste of wine, it's super important to treat each wine the same way every time. That way, you can fully appreciate all the delicious aromas and flavors it has to offer.

WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine®
WSET Systematic Approach to Tasting Wine®

Let's begin with the Appearance

The first section analyzes the Appearance of the wine. It should be evident from simply looking at the wine, what color category it falls. It'll either be white, red or rosé.

White Wine

This is an example of a white wine. White wines are typically lighter in color than red wines and are produced from the juice of green or yellow grapes.

The color of white wine can vary from a pale lemon yellow to a greenish hue or even a deeper gold color, depending on the grape variety used and the winemaking process. The shade of white wine can also be influenced by age, with younger wines tending to have a paler hue.

Overall, a wide range of colors of wines are classified as white.

A glass of white wine sitting on a wine barrel with some white/yellow grapes next to the glass

Red Wine

Red wines look very different from white wines. The color of red wine can vary depending on several factors, such as the grape variety, region, and winemaking techniques used.

For example, Pinot Noir wines tend to have a lighter color and can be more translucent than other red wines. On the other hand, Cabernet Sauvignon wines tend to be deeper, with a darker ruby color.

Glass of red wine on a patio table outside a house

Rosé Wine

The amount of time the skins are in contact with the juice determines the depth and intensity of the color for rosé wines.

The resulting wine can range from very pale pink to deep pink. Some rosé wines can even have a slight orange or salmon color, depending on the grape variety and the winemaking process.

Glass of rosé wine on a table

Next, the Nose

What is the "Nose" of the wine?

The next part of the SAT is analyzing the "nose" of the wine. What is the "nose"? Those are the aroma characteristics you notice when sniffing the wine. In this situation, you can technically use "nose" as a verb and say "nosing" the wine. But, personally not my favorite way to describe something as simply smelling. I'm sure this can also be taken wildly out of context very quickly. 😂

In reality, you want to know what you are smelling and be able to describe it.

Aromas, where do they come from?

Where do the aromas of wine come from? The obvious first possibility is that they come from the grapes themselves. Then, of course, each type (varietal) of grape can produce different smells. Then, you can get different aromas from how the wine was made based on the winemaker's technique.

Oak Barrels

For example, during fermentation, it depends on what type of vessel the wine is being held in. That can be as simple as oak (vanilla and coconut aromas) versus steel or can get more complex depending on what kind of oak (French oak or American Oak) and the properties of that oak itself. For example, since wood is porous, air can pass through it. This allows a small amount of oxygen to mix with the wine, changing its concentration. Additionally, the wine can adopt some of the characteristics of the wood it is stored in, such as oak, depending on the specific type of wood and how it was treated.

Stainless Steel Barrels

If you're using stainless steel, it won't overly affect the taste or smell of your grapes. This is because it doesn't react chemically with your grapes and stops almost all of the oxygen from getting in. This allows the true flavor of your grapes to be expressed more clearly.

There is SO much to learn about vessels, and I'll dive into that at another time.

Lastly, the Palate.

The "palate" is describing what the wine tastes like. As you can see in the image below, the "palate" is broken up into "Notable Structural Characteristics" and "Flavour Characteristics".

Chart describing the characteristics of the Palate for the SAT

What are the "Notable Structural Characteristics"?

Well, it's a complicated way of describing the main pillars of the wine you are drinking. Every wine will be different in these categories, even between two of the same varietals.

These are some topics we convered in detail in previous posts thank-a-grape and wine-all-depends-on-mother-nature but if you remember, we simply want to answer the basic questions.

How sweet is the wine (can you taste it on the front of your tongue)?

Is it acidic (does it make your mouth water)? It's helpful to remember that sugar and acid have an inverse relationship.

For red wine only, is it tannic (can you feel dryness in your mouth and around your gums)?

How much alcohol is in the wine (does the back of your throat burn or feel the sensation of heat)?

The "Body" is more about how feels on the palate, not necessarily related to the alcohol content. When you swish it in your mouth, does it feel like skim, 2%, or whole milk?

The intensity of flavor in wine is determined by the concentration of taste. High fruit concentration can indicate better quality, while low concentration can be lower quality.

What are the "Flavour Characteristics"?

These characteristics - Fruit, Oak, Etc. - can be similar to what you smell on the "nose" (aromas). But... you can absolutely taste things you couldn't smell! Does your wine taste more fruity, maybe earthy (vegetables and herbs), even spicy, or possibly buttery and creamy? If you are drinking wine that has been aged for a while, you might pick up some nuttiness or tobacco, which can be signs of wine maturing in the bottle.

Most importantly, keep it simple.

While smelling and tasting wine is simple in theory, it's harder than it seems to describe. And, that's ok! Everyone struggles with it even if they don't admit it. Your sense of smell and palate is affected by so many factors out of your control on a daily basis. Also, you don't need to identify every possible smell and flavor. That's impossible. Break them out into simple clusters of aromas and flavors. Most people can distinguish between the smell and taste of a red fruit (like a cherry) versus that of a black fruit (black cherry/grape, plums, etc.).

For example, it really doesn't matter what kind of red fruit you might smell or taste when drinking Pinot Noir, the important thing is that you can identify it. You might then pick up on some spice once you taste it. So, start there. If it seems spicy to you, just note that. It doesn't matter what kind of exact spice it is.

Then, write it down or document it in some way. Think of it as studying, learning about what the wine should taste and smell like. Then, try to identify the basics in clusters and document them. Once you get the basics down and want to take the next step, smell spices, seasonings, fruits, or vegetables that you might have at home. Or, next time you go to the grocery store, spend some time in the produce section. You might look a little weird smelling granny smith apples or a carton of grapes, but it'll all be worth it! 😂 You'll be getting the hang of the SAT in no time!

Until next time!



Photo of the author, Jake

It's me, hi


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