Sound? Listen when you remove the cork. If you hear a firm pop when the cork breaches the bottle, this is evidence of a well-preserved wine. Listening to the sizzle of Champagne bubbles is just fun.
Sight helps us to both anticipate and evaluate. Pour it up and hold it to the light. You can see the body of the wine. Is it clear and bright? That is a good sign, while grainy or cloudy can indicate yeast residue or other contamination. Pretty is good: The color will be white to bright yellow for a white wine and ruby to garnet for a red. Color also is an indicator of age. Brighter is newer, brown on the edges indicates age.
Swirl it in the glass. Does the wine have legs (slow, thick teardrops that trickle down the glass)? This indicates both fuller body and higher alcohol content.
Smell the wine. A few short sniffs register twice as much information as one long one (think of your dog at mealtime and do what he’s doing).
Now it is time to taste. But remember that most of taste is really smell. Your mouth will perceive the pucker of the tannins, the sour of the acids or the sweet of any residual sugar, the savor of dark fruit and the burn of the alcohol, but the rest happens in your nose.
The “attack” is the first impression in the front of your mouth and you will be hit with alcohol, acid, fruit, tannin, or a combination thereof. In your mouth you are dealing with taste, touch and smell all at once.
Experience the finish when you swallow. The finish can be everything from non-existent to long-and-amazing. (Long and amazing is better.)
So is all this worth it? With a decent wine it is, and after the initial swallow you will be pleased to realize there sits the whole rest of the bottle. And if you are lucky, a 20-ounce, hickory-charred, medium-rare T-Bone.
Paul Hatcher is a Certified Specialist of Wine, an industry designation from the Society of Wine Educators in New York. By day, he is a partner in the Chattanooga law firm of Duncan, Hatcher, Hixson and Fleenor.