Wine tasting 101: tips for beginners' sips

What to wear

There's no dress code for wine tastings and no one is suggesting you'll get messy - but maybe give the white, dryclean-only outfit a miss.

What not to wear

Freshly and copiously applied aftershave or perfume.

What not to say when the tasting person pours

''I'll say when'' or ''Is that all?''

Pick up the glass

Don't drink straight away. Hold the glass to the light or against a white background to look at the wine's colour and clarity.

Are we all clear?

Wine should, in most cases, be clear and bright. If the stuff in your glass is cloudy, the winemaker may have decided against clarifying it to remove naturally occurring - and harmless - haze. That or you're actually at a craft-beer stall.

Tilt the glass

Slightly, or you'll be glad you didn't wear white. Look for colour variation from the centre of the glass and at the ''rim'', where the surface of the wine meets the glass. A young white might be straw-coloured at the centre and have a green-tinged edge. A brownish tinge at the edge suggests an older red. Intensity of colour offers clues about variety and age but is not an indicator of quality.

Stick your nose in

Does it seem fresh? Fruity? Floral? Good. Sweaty? Stale? Not good. Does anything stand out, or remind you of some other familiar smell?

Swirl and sniff again

At first attempt this can get splashy; it's easier to control if you put the glass on a flat surface and move it in a circular motion, enough to create a little whirlpool. Stop swirling and smell again. It's like someone turned the volume up, yes? You might notice aromas that weren't obvious the first time.

Time to taste

No prim sips: make it a good mouthful and note the taste. Sweet, acid or both? Does it feel full and weighty in the mouth or thin and light? Is it oaky? Tannic? Tannins give your mouth a furry feeling, like strong black tea. Now swish it around your tongue and teeth - don't rush. Some tasters inhale and make gargling noises but unless you are in the company of hard-core wine professionals you may skip this step as it grosses out everyone else. Does one flavour overwhelm the others? Or does the wine seem balanced?


Spit or swallow

Either is fine. If people in the wine trade didn't spit they would be drunk all the time. To refine your style, practise in the shower.

The long goodbye

Before you reach for the next glass, think about how the last one felt and tasted on the way down. Has it made a swift exit, or is there plenty of lingering flavour? If the latter, the wine has a ''long finish'', generally regarded as a good thing. Most importantly: did it make you want to drink more of it?

Practise your tasting skills at Sydney Cellar Door, Hyde Park, February 21-23. There will be dozens of wineries laid out by NSW wine region, as well as live music and food stalls.