Basic Sensory Evaluation Techniques

Sensory evaluation is extremely important to learn to help you understand how to look at a beverage.  Have you ever been out to a winery and seen someone holding up a glass to the light with this introspective look on their face? They take the glass and swirl it ever so slowly to gently caress the liquid in the glass as to not bruise it?  They put their entire face in the glass and breathe deep and then get this far away look in their eyes?  Ok, in a nutshell, they are checking to see if the wine is good to drink.  That’s all you need to understand at this level. 

As a sommelier, I’m looking at performing sensory evaluation for the following points:

  • Does this beverage reflect what is typical from the given producer?  AKA, is this similar to what this producer makes year to year.
  • Did any climate changes affect the product for this year?
  • Is the beverage flawed in any way?
  • What are the key aromas and flavors that I’m getting so I can explain this to the customer in order to enhance the sale?
  • Does it look and smell sexy/enticing/exciting or flat?
  • What can the beverage tell me to help myself guess what the beverage is, where it was made, what year it was produced during blind tastings?

As I mentioned before, sommeliers have lots of information from prior tastings, knowledge and research about a particular beverage.  We use this to help us explain the beverage to our clientele and to help with pairings. 

For myself personally, I want to make sure that I never give a bad beverage to a customer.  My job is to block them from getting something they may not like.  Think of it this way…I’m a taster just like in the old days when royalty had someone taste their food and beverages.  Well that is my job – to make sure that I do not serve something that may be flawed. 

What is the customer thinking?

  • Is this going to taste good?
  • Is this worth the price I’m paying for this?
  • Will drinking this make me look good?  (not in all cases but I’ve seen it during my career)
  • Will this make me happy?

Again, my job when pairing food and beverages is to make sure that the customer is happy…..DONE!  If they are not, they may not come back and our business relies on repeat business from regulars.  Remember, if the customer likes it…fantastic.  If they don’t, then you need to come up with another idea on the fly.  I’ll discuss this more in later service articles.

So broken down, Sensory evaluation consists of 6 parts:

  1. Sight,
  2. Hearing,
  3. Smell/aroma,
  4. Touch or mouthfeel,
  5. Taste, and
  6. Combining all of the above to get a ‘picture’.

I’m going to break these down into the key points that you need to help you examine a beverage.  Please note that this for the moment will be related mostly to wine but future articles will break out specifics for beers, spirits, sparkling wines and non-alcoholic beverages.  Considering we spend most of our lives drinking coffee, tea and waters, I plan on focusing on this too. 

Let’s have some fun.

@artofthepair