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Top 4 Tips and Hints for Wine-tasting in Italy

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Woman holding wine glass showing the legs

The order in which you taste wine can have a profound impact on the aromas and flavors that you find in each glass, proving the first important tip for any wine-tasting experience during your Italy trip.

While on a tasting tour of wineries, cellars, or vineyards in Italy, your sommelier will serve wines according to certain important rules. By asking questions and keeping an open mind about possible flavor profiles, micro-regions, and more, you may find collective characteristics of a variety of wines you enjoy in order to learn more as you continue to sample new varietals.

These distinctions make it easier to find the essential aromas, layered flavors, and varied weights of the wines you are sampling so you can explore and experience their dynamic characteristics with your preferences in mind.

Overview
  1. 1. Taste the Wine in the Right Order
  2. 2. What to Look for When Wine Tasting in Italy
  3. 3. How to Smell Properly When Wine Tasting in Italy
  4. 4. How to Taste Properly When Wine Tasting in Italy
  5. Wine Tasting in Italy With Zicasso

1. Taste the Wine in the Right Order

Close up of a man smelling the aroma of a red wine in Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany, Italy

It is not just about white vs red. The tasting order for wines in Italy depends more on light body vs heavier body, dry vs sweet. These distinctions can give you a better understanding of the depth of character each wine has, while also providing more insight into the soils in which the grapes were grown. Wine becomes not only an introduction into a regional delicacy, but also the geography and heritage of any town, city, or countryside vineyard you visit.

When discovering the wines of Italy, the tasting order is the first essential step to enjoying the diversity for which Italy’s wines are known.

  • Light body wines are served before heavier or fuller bodies as the stronger flavors and richer sugars will muddle the delicate characteristics of the lighter-bodied wines.
  • White wines are served before red wines.
  • Dry wines are served before sweet wines, as the sweeter wines will make the drier ones acidic.

2. What to Look for When Wine Tasting in Italy

Bottle and glass of white wine with a view of an Italian vineyard

Italy

Looking at the wine is the first step in wine tasting, which occurs before swirling, smelling, or sipping, allowing you to assess the hues of the wine to gain a better sense of the type of wine that you will sip. You will start to consider the depth of each wine's color beyond red and white, developing an understanding of how wines derive distinct colors from the contact with the grape skin, which not only imparts the different hues, but also the various characteristics of the grape into the wine. The following characteristics typically impact the nuances in color of white and red wines:

White Wine

  1. A light, but bright yellow or nearly clear coloration suggests less contact with its grape skin and no aging, resulting in a crisp and refreshing character.
  2. A deep, full-yellow color suggests the wine was aged in an oak barrel near the end of production and contains a smoother, richer, and fuller character.

Red Wine

  1. A light red or pink hue suggests the wine did not have much contact with the grape skin and is less likely aged in an oak barrel, resulting in a light and bright character.
  2. The darker the wine, such as bordering on maroon or purple, the more time it has likely spent aging in oak barrels to develop a bold, rich flavor.

Swirling the Wine

After inspecting your glass of wine, you will want to begin swirling it around the glass to impart more oxygen into the wine. Oxygen helps break down complexities of the wine, allowing it to “open up” and emit aromas, while also softening the flavor profile. There is no industry-specific way to swirl the wine in the glass, but typical standards consist of holding the glass by the stem or the base, avoiding the bulb where the glass meets the stem.

Looking for Legs

“Legs” in wine refers to the tears that stream down the side of the glass. They do not allude to the quality or the flavor of the contents inside the glass, but more often connote the alcohol level of the wine. If the legs move slowly down the sides of the glass with a thick gloss then the wine likely has a higher alcohol level or a higher sugar content. Shorter legs, which refers to a faster-moving streak, means the wine has less sugar and less alcohol.

3. How to Smell Properly When Wine Tasting in Italy

Italian winemaker smelling and tasting red wine in Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont, Italy

After swirling, you will want to gain a better idea of the wine's distinct aromas and do this by sticking your nose deep into the wine glass, closing your eyes to encourage your sense of smell, and inhaling deeply to find aromas that connect with familiar scents. Detecting aromas in wine is subjective, and while some individuals may pinpoint the specific scents within a wine, others will uncover or describe aromas based on their unique perspectives. That said, there are some guidelines to assist you in finding and describing aromas when wine tasting in Italy. You will want to start by searching for the following:

  • Primary Aromas – notable scents of fruits, herbs, or floral characteristics.
  • Secondary Aromas – underlying scents that often connote the skill of a winemaker and showcase a derivative of the yeast that was used during fermentation, which often causes aromas similar to cheese rind and/or almond and peanut husks.
  • Tertiary Aromas – adding to the complexity of scents that often stem from aging in a bottle or in oak, which can include roasted nuts, baking spices, cured leather, and coconut.

Describing the Smells of the Wine

Describing the aromas of a wine can help to communicate the style of wine that you prefer and the characteristics that you look for when choosing your preferred glass or bottle. By finding the proper terms to describe the varied aromas of wine that you sample, you can then use those same terms to relay the type of wine that you wish to have with dinner, enjoy during a summer afternoon in Italy, or buy for a special occasion.

Detecting aromas in a wine is subjective. While many people may find similar scents, different individuals can uncover or describe aromas based on their life experiences, while also varying due to their level of sensitivity, recognition, and ability to communicate what they find. Common descriptive aromas include:

White Wine

  • Lemon rind
  • Pineapple
  • Stone fruit
  • Peach
  • Apricot
  • Vanilla

Red Wine

  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Tobacco
  • Leather
  • Plums
  • Peppers

4. How to Taste Properly When Wine Tasting in Italy

Sommelier pouring red wine  into a decanter in Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont, Italy

By first smelling the wine, we can better prepare ourselves for the flavors to come by anticipating sour, sweet, salty, or bitter notes, which are based upon the variety of aromas that we detect when breathing in the wine. The bitterness of a wine depends on the grape, while the sweetness is only detectable through tasting, as only the tongue can detect the flavor profile. When sampling the flavor of a wine, use the following tasting recommendations:

  1. Sweetness – A sweet flavor refers to the levels of sugar in the wine and is determined by a tingling sensation at the end of your tongue.
  2. Acidity – An acidic character refers to tart or zesty elements, causing a tingling sensation at the front and sides of your tongue, and can also refer to how much the wine makes you salivate after finishing a sip. More salivation means a more acidic wine.
  3. Tannin levels – The earthy element causes a bitter flavor in wine that is similar to placing a tea bag on your tongue, but adds texture, balance, and complexity, leaving a bitter taste at the front and sides of your tongue, and resulting in a dry mouth.
  4. Fruity flavor – While the type of fruit found in a wine may vary, if you find an abundance of fruit flavor when sipping the wine then it is considered fruity.
  5. The body – The combination of residual sugars, alcohol concentration, and how long the wine lingers in your mouth accounts for its body. If the taste lingers in your mouth longer than 30 seconds, the wine is considered full-bodied.

Common Wine-tasting Terms

There is a range of terms associated with describing the process of wine-making and characteristics of the wines themselves. Knowing the terms that are used within the wine community portrays the ways others speak, share, converse, and learn about wine, opening the door for you to lead into deeper discussions. The following list offers nine of the top terms that are associated with describing wine:

  1. Fruit-forward – Wines with heavy, fruity aromas that are consistent with white and red wines that emit scents like raspberries, cherries, strawberries, or pineapple, with the fruity flavors dominating the scent and flavor.
  2. Earthy – The word earthy refers to the more savory aromas and flavors of a wine, ranging from scents that are not associated with sweetness, such as chocolate, rocks, beeswax, and spices.
  3. Body – Light, medium, or full refers to the weighty feel of the wine on your palate.
  4. Dry – Refers to the sweetness content of the wine, which can contain a sweet hint that is often found in full-bodied wines, but lacks an aggressive sugar content, leaving the taste buds tingling.
  5. Tannin – The variety of different types of tannins refers to character that is attributed to the body and taste of red wines from a naturally occurring compound that exists in grape skins, seeds, and stems
  6. Finish – The typical sensation left in your mouth after you swallow the wine, or residual sweet, bitter, sour, smokey, and other tastes lingering on your palate..
  7. Typicity – The main way to describe a wine from a specific region that is most often used as a comparison for finding wines that possess certain characteristics, such as sampling a Nebbiolo from Piedmont versus a Nebbiolo from Sicily.
  8. Complexity – A wine whose flavor changes between your first sip and swallowing the wine, which is often used as the beginning of an explanation before providing more specific information.
  9. Buttery – A wine that has been aged in oak, with a typical flat and rich flavor that is known to be less acidic. The flavor often hits the center of your tongue like an oil or butter, before offering a smooth finish.

Wine Tasting in Italy With Zicasso

Couple swirling red wine in an Italian cellar

Italy

Instead of having to do the groundwork yourself, a Zicasso travel specialist will find a variety of vineyards, both famous and boutique, as well as private drivers who know the areas, so that you can simply indulge in the pleasures of wine tasting in Italy. Whether desiring a tour that is guided by a wine-industry professional, such as a local sommelier, or preferring to discover the depth of different wines on your own, Zicasso customizes all Italy Tours and Vacations to suit your tastes. Seeking more inspiration for your tour? Browse our Italy Travel Guide or call a specialist by completing a Trip Request or dialing 1-888-265-9707.

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