How to properly taste wine


Do you know when to swirl and when to sniff a glass of wine? Did you know that wine has 'legs'? Learn all about wine tasting from professional wine expert Olivier Magny, who owns a wine tasting club in Paris.

How to properly taste wine

Tasting Wine:

  • You should taste wine with all your senses.
  • Hold the wine glass by the stem so as not to warm the wine with your hands or leave smudges around the glass.
  • The first thing to look at is the actual wine itself. Check for clarity of the wine. It should be clear, especially white wine.
  • Next you want to check the surface of the wine and see if light reflects off of the surface. The more shiny or reflective the wine looks the more acidic it will taste and will make it more fresh and crisp on your palette.
  • Now smell the wine, without swirling first.
  • Now swirl the wine, and watch how the wine drips down the side of your glass. You’re looking for the ‘legs’ (the drips of wine down the inside of the glass). The thicker the legs the more sweeter the wine. Smaller legs mean a drier wine.
  • Now that it’s had a chance to breathe and the aromatic molecules have been released, smell the wine again. Place your nose in the glass and take a deep breath. It should smell stronger and more intense.


Types and Qualities of Wine:

  • There are two things people use to identify wine. One is the grape used to make the wine and the other is the origin.
  • Sauvignon Blanc, for example, is a white wine that makes fresh, fruity, crisp wine. Most Sauvignon Blanc wines come from France or New Zealand.
  • Most of the same tasting techniques apply to both red and white wines.
  • In red wines you will notice that the very top layer of the wine in the glass is more transparent than the rest of the wine. This is due to oxidation, which happens as the wine ages.
  • In oxidation the oxygen of the air comes in through the cork and attacks the chemical structure of the wine, making wine's value and taste different.
  • The more oxidation that is present the older the wine is.
  • Not all wines get better with age. Good wines get better as they get older; the price goes up as well.

LISA: I'm Lisa Birnbach for We've all heard people describe wines by the bouquet, the way it smells. But aren't you supposed to taste wine with your taste buds? Not really according to wine expert Olivier Magny, a professional sommelier and owner of O Chateau, a wine tasting destination in Paris. You taste wine with all your senses don't you?

OLIVIER: Absolutely. It has to be a sensual experience really. First you can try to look at your wine, first that is usually the first step. First you want to hold your glass here, by the stem.

LISA:  Oh. Why?

OLIVIER: You don't want to heat up the wine, you don't want to leave marks--I have big fingers you know. 

LISA:  Okay.

OLIVIER: The first check: clarity. Is the wine clear? So here, looks clear. 

LISA:  Looks clear.

OLIVIER:  Good. White wine should be clear. 

LISA:  Okay so--

OLIVIER:  You want to see what's on the surface of your wine and see if the wine reflects. So is it a shiny wine, is it a reflective wine, or is it matte? Here--

LISA:  Are you serious? 


LISA:  Wine should be shiny?

OLIVIER:  I wouldn't say it should be shiny, but the more shiny the more reflective the wine looks--the more acidic it's going to taste, the more fresh and crisp it's going to taste on your palette. 

LISA: Okay now what, do we swirl? 

OLIVIER: We can swirl next absolutely. 

LISA: Now wait, that's like--

OLIVIER: If you want to show off. If you're not comfortable doing this--

LISA:  Yeah.

OLIVIER: Boom, you know swirl on the table. And after a while you notice some things start dripping along your glass. 

LISA:  Yes. 

OLIVIER: Okay those are things they call the legs. 

LISA:  But look at that.

OLIVIER: See they're skinny...those remain stuck on top. More like the thicker the legs, the faster, the more sugar, so the sweeter the wine. Here we don't have too many of them--dry wine for sure. 

LISA:  Does the swirl open up the flavor too? 

OLIVIER: Absolutely, but that's--in the second step we're going to smell without swirling, okay?

LISA:  Okay let's do a non-swirl smell. 


LISA: The N S S.

OLIVIER: Well it smells good, quite fruity. Now we can swirl to let the wine breathe, to lift up the aromatic molecules that are very, very volatile. They're going to come and stop on top of your glass. And smell again. 

LISA:  Smells better. 

OLIVIER:  Stronger, it's more intense. Everything is more open.

LISA: Right. 

OLIVIER: So that's the point--the other point of swirling. Now there's two things I want to identify. One is the grape. In the US that is really very much how people tend to identify the wine. Merlot, chardonney, cabernet sauvignon. And the other thing that tends to prevail in Europe is the origin. So here the grape in this wine, we're headed towards the sauvignon blanc grapes which always make this fresh--

LISA:  Sauvignon blanc.

OLIVIER: Fruit, crisp wines.  And we are in the other, besides France, country for sauvignon blanc New Zealand.

LISA:  Okay when do we get to taste it? 

OLIVIER:  Just right now, cheers!

LISA:  Okay. 

OLIVIER:  It's pretty much the same technique for the white and the reds. Of course the whole clarity thing is less easy to do. One little thing which is interesting which I didn't mention for the whites, if you look at your wine from above, if you look at the very edge of the wine where the wine meets the glass--

LISA:  Yes.

OLIVIER:  Well just put your hand underneath and you notice that the very last millimeter is like lighter. 

LISA:  Yes!

OLIVIER:  Slightly purple, pink, transparent.

LISA:  It's more transluscent than the rest.

OLIVIER:  Absolutely. 

LISA:  Why?

OLIVIER:  This is due to oxidation.  Okay it sounds like a very technical term, but oxidation is what happens when a wine ages. The oxygen comes in here through the cork and is going to attack the chemical structure of the wine, making wine taste different. Okay? Oxidation. So between that little edge which is called the miniscus and the center of your wine, there has been a lot of oxidation already. Old wine. If you don't see too much of a color difference, you're looking at a young wine. If it's not striking, young wine.

LISA:  Does it affect the value or the taste? 

OLIVIER:  Uh, both.

LISA: Both.

OLIVIER: The taste--it's a bit of a misconception that wine in general gets better. Good wines will get better, most wines are not meant to get better. And usually the price tends to go up as your wine gets older too. 

LISA: Thank you so much.

OLIVIER: Thank you very much Lisa.

LISA:  Good for breakfast. For I'm Lisa Birnbach. 


meet theexpert
  • Olivier Magny

    Olivier Magny Owner, O Chateau Paris Wine Tasting Olivier Magny was born and raised in Paris. He is a certified sommelier and a member of l'Union de la Sommellerie Française. After graduating from a French Grande Ecole, he decided to dedicate himself to wine. more about this expert »

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