Learn wine characteristics & what you like and don’t like

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

I recently visited a winery in Illinois. Yes, you read that correctly…in Illinois. Wineries seem to be popping up in every state. This particular winery was having a grape stomp and Lucille Ball look-alike contest. You know the episode where Lucy is stomping grapes? Hysterical!! We thought we’d enjoy the beautiful weather with a nice glass of wine while watching the look-alike Lucys stomping grapes. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.


This all went according to plan except for the nice glass of wine. We tried some tastings to figure out which ones we liked. However, the friends joining me have very specific tastes but had difficulty explaining what they liked and disliked.

I thought I could guide them by asking the right questions along with the help of the person sampling the wine. It was no use. They were not happy with any of the wine they tried. And yes, a big part of this could be the winery itself and the need to add a bit more – shall we say – finesse to the wine.

Regardless, all of this got me thinking about how best to describe wine. What are we actually tasting and what wine characteristics do we like and dislike? How do we understand this for ourselves and how do we explain this to wine experts so they can help guide us to the wine that we’ll enjoy?

First, we need to understand what we are tasting, then we can more easily put it into words. Let’s identify the different wine characteristics through this tasting method.

Identify Wine Characteristics

By taking the time to look, smell, taste, and evaluate our wine, we’ll learn so much more about wine and what we like and don’t like.

1) Look

Understanding the colors of wine gives us many clues about the type of wine that is in our glass and how it was made.

White wine has a range of pale straw to deep yellow. The light end of the range indicates a cool climate wine which is likely more acidic. The deep yellow end of the spectrum reveals that the wine was aged in oak. Do you like an oak-aged white or do you prefer no oak or light oak?

Red Wine ranges from light ruby to dark plum. The light ruby color points to the light reds like Pinot Noir. A dark plum color points to a wine that’s on the heavier end of the spectrum like a Syrah.

2) Aromas

Our sense of smell is a big part of how we taste and smelling wine gets us ready for tasting it. We can even start identifying the type of wine through its aroma.

White Wine ranges from fruit like pear and peach to floral and herbs. A Sauvignon Blanc is described as herbaceous and many Rieslings have pear and floral notes.

Red Wine ranges from red fruits like raspberries, strawberries to black fruits like blackberries. Pinot Noir has notes of red fruit, while Cabernet Sauvignon reveals notes of black fruit.

3) Taste