Vintners cover the basics of wine tasting

There’s a science to swirling and sipping
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
-A +A

Even the most seasoned oenophile had to start somewhere.

While there are countless intricacies at play in a glass of wine, the steps of tasting it are basically the same. And while the terminology (“legs,” “oaky,” “hints of blueberry”) may intimidate someone new to wine tasting, several area winemakers had the same advice to sippers: In the end, all that matters what you like, and what you don’t.

“It comes down to the taste,” said Mark Bonitata, owner and winemaker of Auburn’s Bonitata Boutique Wine. “I tell people, when they’re tasting in my winery, ‘You can line up 100 people and give them the same glass of wine. You’ll get 100 different opinions on that wine.’”

Keeping that in mind, here’s some advice from the experts on ways to get the most out of your tasting experience:

Take a good look

The color of the wine should be appropriate for the type of grape. White wines should be more on the clear side. For reds, varietals like sangiovese and pinots will be lighter in color, while cabernet franc and tempranillos will be a deep purple.

“The color will tell you a lot,” said Ryan Taylor, head winemaker at Mt. Vernon Winery. “Typically the browner the wine, the more oxygenated the wine is.”

The swirl

“Wine is kind of a living, breathing thing,” Taylor said. “It was once on a plant, we took it off, harvested it, crushed it, pressed it, put it in a barrel for so long and then put it in a bottle.”

In order to get the true taste of the wine, he said, the taster needs to swirl the wine a bit so oxygen hits the liquid.

This is also a chance to check out your wine’s “legs” – the streaks of wine that form on the side of the wine glass when it’s tilted. While many think the legs are associated with quality, it’s really just science. Because wine is a mixture of alcohol and water, once the air hits it the alcohol evaporates, leaving the water to run down the side.

Breathe deeply

Swirling is key to this step: smelling your wine.

Smell is such an important factor in taste, Taylor said, that surrounding odors can affect how the wine is experienced. That can include perfumes and smoke in the air, or whether the person tasting the wine has a cold. 

“Your nose is extremely important,” said Phil Maddux, owner and winemaker at Auburn’s Lone Buffalo Vineyards. “If you study the science of taste, half of it is experienced through your olfactory organs.”

Take a sip

Now comes the fun part: Taste the wine. Taylor recommends pulling in a little air from the side of your mouth as you sip.

“It aerates a little more and it brightens it up a little so you can see the true flavors that are coming out of that wine,” he said.

This is the time that tasters start talking about things like tannins, a group of compounds that are perceived during tasting by how dry they leave the mouth or a sense of bitterness.

Tasting is also when people start identifying different flavors in the wine. It’s common to hear that wine has hints of fruit or other flavors in it.

“I didn’t put raspberries or strawberries in that wine to make it taste like that,” Taylor said. “It’s what Mother Nature put on the vine.”

Wineries pour several types of wine to give tasters the chance to taste a variety of what the establishment has to of-fer, and to give the taster the opportunity to taste something they like.

“You’re getting a chance to taste the wine – it doesn’t cost you anything,” Maddux said. “If you don’t like it, we’ve got a dump bucket. We won’t be disappointed. Everybody has a different palate.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at



Taste for yourself

Bonitata Boutique Wine

Where: 291 Auburn Folsom Road, Auburn

Hours: 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays

Info: (530) 305-0449,


Mt. Vernon Winery

Where: 10850 Mt. Vernon Road, Auburn

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays

Info: (530) 823-1111,


Lone Buffalo Vineyards

Where: 2682 Burgard Lane, Auburn

Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays

Info: (916) 663-4486,

For a complete listing of wineries on the Placer County Wine Trail, visit