How to Taste Wine Like a Master


October 4, 2016 | BY Hong Kong Tatler Dining

Ahead of the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition, we asked an expert for tips on how to make the most of a wine tasting

Wine tasting

Image / Thinkstock

This week, the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition is back, and the Test Your Palate session is one of the best ways to sample a whole spectrum of potentially award-winning wines across three evenings, October 4—6, 2016. 

With more than 300 wine and spirits available for tasting each night, we asked the team at Meiburg Wine Media for their cheat sheet for tasting wine like a true MW (Master of Wine). 

Make a Strategy

So many wines, so little time. First, you must decide what your end goal is—do you want to taste a bit of everything? Or are you after a more specific wine adventure, like seeing how two or three of your favourite varieties compare when tasted alongside their global counterparts? Decide, then conquer!

If you want to taste a little bit of everything, it is best to start from sparkling wines and white wines. Next try rose, then slowly work your way through to the bolder reds and then some fortified wines. If you start with exceptionally full bodied wines or sweet fortified wines, your palate may be overwhelmed for the more delicate wines.

Spitting is Not Rude

If you really want to taste 50-100+ wines, it is not possible to do without spitting.

Debra Meiburg MW breaks down the spitting technique for perfectionists: “To build your spitting skills, try practicing in the shower or at the kitchen sink. The trick is to capture the liquid toward the front of your mouth using your tongue muscle to seal it there. Purse your lips and then expel by pushing your tongue hard against the roof of your mouth.” When in public, subtlety is key.

Taste with All Your Senses

Look at the wine’s colour – is it pale, rich, deep or light? Feel the “weight” of it in your mouth – is it a light, medium or full-bodied wine? Concentrate on the aromas – can you detect 2, 3 or 4 or more distinct aromas? All of these factors contribute to a wine’s quality – see how they compare between varieties and start to learn your own taste preferences better.

Go To Great Lengths

A great way to assess a wine’s quality is through its length. Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition founding director and Master of Wine Debra Meiburg employs a horse race analogy: “Like a thoroughbred horserace, a winning wine needs to go the distance. Taste it and see – if, after a thorough swirl in your mouth, you can still taste the wine after 30 seconds or more, you have a high quality wine.” Consciously test this theory with several different wines (timing it even!) and you’ll start to get a clearer understanding of length and quality.

Befriend a Judge!

The enthusiastic Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition judges love helping wine lovers find a wine they love, introducing them to new varieties, showing them their favourites of the day, and even sharing tips on tasting techniques, how to best expand your palate. The pan-Asian team of judges comes from 10 Asian cities. Plus, don’t forget to say hi to International VIP Wine Judge, Patrick Materman, Chief Winemaker at Brancott Estate, New Zealand and one of the world’s leading experts on Sauvignon Blanc winemaking. With 27 vintages behind him, in a region that released its first Sauvignon Blanc in 1979, Patrick is one of the most experienced, creative and knowledgeable winemakers working in Marlborough today.

Taste a Bad Wine

Unfortunate as it is, faulty wine does happen. Whether through a fault in the winemaking process, or unfavorable transportation and storage methods, wine is not 100% immune to spoiling. So go on – taste some bad wine. That’s right – head to the “Faulty Wine Table” and take a sniff, sip and swirl of a faulty wine. Different faults will be on display – like corked wine, oxidized wine and wine with heat and light damage. By experiencing wine faults first hand, you’ll be more confident to return your next bottle of faulty wine in a restaurant or bar when you think “something’s not quite right”.

What Not to Do

With well in excess of 300 wines on offer from around the world, don’t just head to your favourite Aussie red table. Make an effort to tick 10 different countries and 10 varieties off your list before heading for home comforts. It is amazing what you can discover about your own taste preferences when you try something totally new.

Go With Your Gut Feeling

Lastly, don’t forget to pick a winner, and see if you are correct (if you do, you’ll receive a box of competition wine!). Results of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition will be announced 10 November at a gala awards ceremony and dinner on the opening of the Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair. See for full details of the awards and winners.


With thanks to Meiburg Wine Media