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5 Tips for Setting Up a Comparative Tasting

winter red wine vineyard

No matter what kind of wine drinker you are – the casual enthusiast, the passionate connoisseur, or the person who orders a glass here and there – the key to better understanding wine is with some hands-on tasting. Wine tasting is an experience rooted in the senses – seeing, smelling, and tasting differences between one varietal and another is the best way to understand nuances of different bottles.

According to our friend Nicole Dalton of Grape Chic, "You can spend hours reading wine books and articles online, but without opening your senses and tasting the wine first hand, it’s hard to understand why and what you’re experiencing." She adds, "For example, I could never really grasp the body or 'mouth feel' of a wine until [compared it to a wine] on the opposite end of the spectrum."

With guidance from Nicole and Master Sommelier Michael Meagher, we compiled a list of tips for conducting your own side-by-side tasting at home. Use them to broaden your wine knowledge and explore by the pour with Coravin.

5 tips for creating comparative tastings at home

Tasting wines side-by-side is a great opportunity to better understand your own palate and grow your wine knowledge. When you set up a tasting, choose wines that are similar but different. That means, maybe you compare two Pinot Noirs from different regions, or two red wines from the same region in Italy. Other things to compare against are altitudes, vintages (i.e. what year the wine was harvested), whether the wine was oaked or not, and different levels of sweetness in sparkling wines. There are so many opportunities to, as Michael shares, "play around, have some fun, and explore the world of wine one taste at a time."

1. Use wine glasses that are the same size – universal glasses work.

There are a lot of different wine glasses out there – some claiming to be the best for reds, others suggesting they're best for whites, and even some that go as far as saying, "best glass for Burgundy" or "best glass for Riesling." No matter which you choose, be sure to give wines equal treatment. These means using the same type of glass for the two wines you're comparing. According to Michael, a universal glass works perfectly here.

2. Make sure your glasses are clean and aroma-free.

Things like dishwasher detergents, cabinets, or wine residue can throw off the tasting experience. Make sure your glassware is clean and aroma-free before you pour. To ensure this, hold the glass up to the light, give it a sniff, and – if needed – give it a quick wash and dry.

3. Use your Coravin wine preservation system to pour 1 to 1.5-ounce glasses.

Use your Coravin wine preservation system – Timeless, Pivot, or Sparkling – to pour 1 to 1.5 ounces of wine to taste. This is a great way to explore without committing to the entire bottle. Tip: 1-ounce pour is a little less than a shot glass.

4. Stay organized and keep track of your wines. Also, treat both wines the same – consistency is key.

Keep track of your wines! You won't learn everything if you forget what's in which glass. Use a sticker or dry-erase marker to mark bottles and glasses if you're tasting multiple or, at least, keep the bottle and glasses close to one another. When it comes to treating wines the same, this goes beyond the glass. It helps to taste reds together, whites together, and sparkling wines together. Then, make sure your wines are similar temperatures.

5. Swirl, sniff, and take a pause. Taste slowly.

Now it's time for the actual tasting. Before you sip, take a moment to look at your wine. We recommend having a white piece of paper on hand to inspect the color. Here's how: Tilt your glass on its side and hold it over the white paper. Make notes (mental or physical) about the hue and opacity (full-bodied wines are deeper in color and opaque). Next up, smell! Swirl and sniff your glass and try to pick up on the tasting notes. The more you practice, the easier this gets. Finally, sip slowly. Taste one wine and let the experience linger. After a minute or so, have a sip of water and taste another wine. Try to pick up on the differences when it comes to acidity, dryness, and flavor.

To make for the ultimate comparative tasting, make sure you have your Coravin wine preservation system, plenty of capsules.