How to Drink and Taste White Wine Properly

Updated May 5, 2022
People drinking white wine at a bar

Getting into wine and curious about whites? It's a big world out there with dry to floral to fruity white wines from all over the world. If you are looking to wet your palate and get to know some grapes, styles, and regions, a good place to start is with the basics of wine tasting. While there is no one single right way to drink wine, there are a few helpful practices that will help you to explore white varietals and learn what you like and what you don't.

How to Taste White Wine 101

You know when you're in a restaurant and you see the people at the neighboring table swirling wine around in their glass? It's easy to roll your eyes and think, now that is the epitome of wine snobbery. But, that truly is such an important part in getting to know the aromas and flavors of a wine. Whether you are interested in assessing wine just for fun or for professional purposes, these five steps are where to start.

Tasting Prep

If you really want to properly taste, put that mason jar back in the cupboard and reach for a wine glass instead. If you have white wine glasses, that's even better. Also, be sure your bottle of white is properly chilled. White wines vary in their ideal serving temperature depending on style and body. Light and medium-bodied white wines are best served between 45-50°F (7-10°C) while fuller-bodied whites are better at a slightly warmer temperature, between 50-55°F (10-13°C). You'll also want to have a little notebook on hand so you can record what you taste and compare your notes as you continue your tasting journey.

Look at Appearance

Holding the glass of wine at 45° angle against a well-lit white background is the best way to assess the color. From here, you can look at the intensity of color as well as the color itself. Think of intensity as saturation. Is it pale from the edge of the glass all the way in, or does it deepen significantly in the middle of glass? The color of white wine can range from lemon to gold to amber and everything in between. The grape varietal, the maturation vessel, and the age of the wine are all reflected in the color.

Consider the Nose

Man in a suit selling white wine before drinking it

The aroma of white wine is really important when assessing all of its flavor characteristics. There are a lot of flavors your tongue won't pick up on, but your nose will. This is especially true with delicate white wines. First, take a sniff and gather your first impressions. Then, gently give the wine a few swirls. Swirling the glass brings some oxygen into the wine and helps it to release some of the aromas while the glass funnels them up to your nose. The aromas have intensity as well. Some dominant whites may have pronounced floral or fruity aromas while others may be much more delicate with very little intensity. Next, start to pinpoint actual aromas. These can be broad, like tropical fruit, or they can be more specific, like crushed pineapple. There is a large aroma and flavor wheel of common descriptors which can help to get you started instead of pulling thoughts out of thin air.

white wine flavor wheel

Taste the Wine

When you finally take that first sip, you want to not only think about the flavors, but also consider whether it is dry, sweet, or somewhere in between. Consider acidity, the level of alcohol, and the body on a scale as well. Once you assess these, you can also refer to a flavor wheel to help you hone in on some of what you're tasting.

Make an Overall Assessment

Once you've gathered all the above information about a wine, you can think about the finish, overall balance, and quality level. Does it linger on your palate or dissipate quickly? Was the fruit balanced by the acidity? Was the alcohol overpowering? Or, if you're kinda over it by then, just focus on drinking the wine! The whole assessment may seem a bit overwhelming in the beginning, but the more you practice the easier it gets and the more information you can pull from a wine, which helps you to decipher what you prefer and find more of those wines in the future.

Tasting White Wines in the Right Order

If you are rounding up numerous bottles to taste through in one sitting, the order is important to keep your taste buds sharp and ready for what's to come. You'll want to start with the lighter-bodied, driest white wines first, like a vinho verde, chenin blanc, or a grüner veltliner. From there, you can move on to the heavier and/or sweet whites like viognier, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, and sémillon. You'll also want to consider age, drinking the younger, fresher wines in the line up before aged whites that have developed more complex tertiary characteristics.

Tasting Through Whites

There are thousands of white wines from wine regions all around the world. Properly tasting through a select few will give you an insight into the grape, region, winemaking technique, and vintage. Try to enter each tasting without preconceived notions and keep an open mind. You may just discover a gem from some place unexpected that becomes your new favorite.

How to Drink and Taste White Wine Properly