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Taste wine like a pro: Tips from a Best of Wine 2023 judge

Want to know the secret sauce to judging a wine competition? Learn how Best of Wine judges swirl, sniff, slurp and suss out the standout drops with this guide.


Wine industry experts, coffee and a green olive or two were all part of bringing you the Best of Wine 2023 winners. For insider tips on what it takes to taste wine like a pro, we spoke to judge and Yering Station Chief Winemaker, Brendan Hawker.

Taste with your eyes

Over two days and 15 categories covering sparkling, white, rosé and red wines, our panel of industry professionals followed some important steps to track down the 2023 winners. Start by pouring your wine into a clean, dust-free glass, then hold the glass at a slight angle against a white surface to assess colour. “Colour can be an indication of freshness and quality of wine and it will be the first thing that stands out for me”, says Brendan. Bright colour stretching from the centre to the edge of a wine suggests youth. Conversely, colour that begins to lighten towards the outside edge suggests an older wine.

The nose knows

We’ve all seen wine professionals swirling wine around in their glass – clockwise or anti-clockwise, whatever works for you. This releases aromas from the surface of the wine, making it easier to smell them. A great way to assess wine starts with “a good swirl and a deep sniff”, according to Brendan, followed by writing down what you can smell before starting to taste the wine.


When smelling a wine, freshness is of the utmost importance. “If there’s nice bright fresh fruit characters then that’s a big tick, before I award bonus points for complexity and depth,” Brendan says. The sweet spot is a balance between a variety of aromas and winemaking artefacts, making sure things like oak don’t swamp the fruit.

Wake up the buds

Morning coffee is essential to prepare the judges for a busy day of tasting, but they also use this clever technique to ‘wake up’ their palate. The nose and the mouth are inseparable when it comes to tasting wine and slurping wine does for the tastebuds what swirling does for the nose. Take a small sip of wine, angle your head slightly forward to avoid the wine catching at the back of your throat, and gently slurp the wine across your tongue so it sprays your palate. Aromas are released from the surface of the wine, sending them to the back of your mouth to connect with the nose, which helps you identify different flavours. A connection between aromas and flavours, fruit presence and fruit character, followed by complexity, is what gets Brendan’s attention.

That little bit extra

This is where it all comes together. Our experts are looking for a cohesive wine showing complexity, flavour persistence, freshness and, most importantly, intrigue – that elusive something extra that makes a wine stand out. For Brendan, texture, structure and varietal character all have a role to play in creating a winning wine.


Brendan’s final tips for tasting at home? If you need a palate cleanser, follow his lead and snack on green Sicilian olives. “The olives don’t leave a lingering flavour, but they’re really good at keeping the saliva going.” And, he says, don’t forget to sip lots of water to keep the palate hydrated and fresh.