Ten Great Wine Tasting Tips

We’re gonna hook you up on your wine-talking. 

Christopher Stagnitta
Christopher Stagnitta gives the inside scoop on wines to serious wine drinkers in Maryland

Christopher Stagnitta, a wine & spirits consultant with Prestige Beverage Group out of Church Hill, Maryland, has traveled to wineries around the world and provides the scoop on wine tasting:


Wine temperature 

Americans drink red wine too warm because we keep our homes too warm, says Stagnitta. Steak houses serve red wine at 60-62 degrees. If you drink wine too warm, all the tannins and alcohol come out and, even though it’s a good wine, it might taste a bit nasty

Stagnitt suggests: put the red into the freezer for 15 minutes before you leave the house or serve it. It’ll bring the wine to the slightly lower than room temperature that’s prime for drinking by time people show up and are ready to drink. Many people drink red chilled now.

If a white wine tastes slightly funny, chill it. The taste will go away — unless it’s “corked”

“Corked” wine 

Wine is not always consistent. Even wineries will taste the wine before serving to ensure it’s not corked. When the waiter pours you a splash and waits for you to taste, don’t be embarrassed; actually taste it. Fact is: one in 10 bottles will have a “cork” taste. So taste the wine, and tell the waiter if it tastes funny. Don’t automatically accept the bottle because it’s a “good” restaurant or a high-end wine.

Turned wine

Don’t drink cloudy wine. It could be the wine is too soon out of the barrel and the tannins haven’t settled, or the bottle was too hot at one point in its life. If you have a really old bottle and it’s cloudy, the tannins are likely to have gone wild. There are a number of ways to filter it before drinking. But for us average drinkers, the wine was usually left in the sun or hot place, and drinking it is a crapshoot on a headache later.

If you simply don’t like a wine at a tasting, just dump it into the bucket. Nobody should be offended. Those giving out samples of even high-end wines, taste and dump. It’s perfectly normal.

Oaky wines

Don’t feel bad if you don’t like oak barrel wine. To some people it’s like chewing on wood. Stagnitta didn’t like chardonnay until he realized it was the oak flavor he didn’t like. He now drinks steel barrel aged chards and enjoys the cleaner taste.

Wine with certain meats

“That’s crap,” Stagnitta says. He suggest that you: 1) drink the wine that you enjoy and, 2) chose one that goes well with the spice, flavor and character of the food. An oaky or heavy red or white works with spice; lightener wines with light foods. Then, ignore those people who tell you otherwise.

How long to hold onto wine 

Whites don’t last in the cellar because they’re not aged in oak for long or not at all. Reds that age well have been stored in oak before going into the bottle. That’s why wine sellers will tell you some wines keep and others are for drinking fairly soon after buying. Reds will improve with storing a few years. Whites, not so much. Wine stores and wineries can usually tell you how long you can safely store a particular wine.

If you keep red wine in a rack, you should turn it every six-to-eight months.

Cleansing the palette between tastings 

It just depends. Some people swear by a swish of water in your mouth, others use crackers, and some say chocolate is the best at cleansing your pallet between tastings. But Stagnitta says saliva is the best. Bread and crackers have a yeast flavor that changes the taste. Same with chocolate. Water is okay, but it hides the taste for a while. Just take a couple swallows without anything in your mouth.


Legs are the drip of the liquid inside the glass after you swirl the wine. Wine fanciers love to swirl their wine around the glass and read the color and the “legs.” Legs show the alcohol content. Pinstripe (evenly spaced) legs generally means more alcohol. However, dust, pollen, detergent left on the glass and all sorts of other things affect legs, so it’s not a good measure. Basically, “legs” don’t matter. If you go to a wine tasting and someone is going on about legs, don’t be impressed.


“Decant everything,” says Stagnitta. It opens up the flavor of the wine. If you want friends to know how good a bottle you bought, keep the empty bottle nearby. The first glasses after aerating are the best.

But decanting is not to keep particles out. Some wines include a lot of the wine junk (tannins) — skins, stems, pits — on purpose. Molly Duker winery recommends you pour a sip out of the bottle, then shake the heavily tannined bottle of wine, and serve it immediately after the shaking. Amazingly, it smooths out the bitter tannins and creates a fuller- bodied wine.

Wine prices

Don’t judge wine based on price. The wine’s year can trump the expensive wine label. For example: 2012 was a better year in California than 2011, but some 2011’s are better for the price because people read the reports and aren’t scooping up the 2011. After all a 2011 from a “great” winery is still better than a 2012 from a “good” winery.

Stagnate gave us a challenge: bring your favorite high-end Cab and let’s have a taste-test against his lower priced selection. The group of serious wine drinkers — ten higher-income, middle-aged friends — took up the gauntlet. They each took a sip of the two comparison wines. They didn’t try to guess which was which, but rather, which they liked best. Nearly every time, half liked the high-end bottle and half preferred the cheaper bottle. Point is: the wine quality was good for both and the rest is simply a matter of what appeals to your taste buds.

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