Wine Tasting 101

Are you new to wine tasting?  Here are a few tips to get you started.

There are many elements that experts examine to determine a wine’s quality and value.  Here we’ll simply teach you to identify, describe and find the wines that you enjoy.

Practiced wine tasters will examine complexity, aroma, acidity, tannins, alcohol content, sugars, viscosity, body, structural elements and even faults.  If you pay attention you will begin to notice all those nuances and start to identify what pleases your palate.

The basics:

Tasting order is important.  We recommend starting with sparkling wines, then light whites, then heavy whites, then roses, then light reds, then heavy reds, and finally sweet wines.

A nibble of cracker or a sip of water in between will cleanse your palate so that each wine stands on its own. Cheese can really enhance a wine and vice versa.  Petter Wine Gallery will have wonderful local cheeses available for purchase if you want to try.

Remember that it is okay to spit! Spittoons or a dump buckets are available in case you don’t want to drink your entire taste.

5 Steps of Wine Tasting

  1. SIGHT:  Look at your wine.  Observe the color and clarity.  Does it have legs or tears?  These are indicators of viscosity.  Higher alcohol content and residual sugar will give wine “legs” or streaks that look like tear drops cascading inside your wine glass.
  2. SWIRL:  When you swirl the wine in the glass it “opens” the wine.  The added oxygen allows the wine to breathe and stirs up the esters or aromas.
  3. SNIFF:  Go ahead!  Put your nose right the glass and breathe in those esters!  What do you smell?  Tropical fruit? Berries? Coffee or tobacco?  Most of a wine’s flavor is in it’s aroma profile.  Have fun with this!
  4. SIP:  Taste the wine and let it sit on your palate. Swirl it around in your mouth before swallowing or spitting.  What is the initial flavor or texture. Does it change as you hold it in your mouth?
  5. SWALLOW: Does the flavor change again after you swallow?  Did it leave your tongue feeling dry?  Was it silky and smooth?  Tell us what you feel and we can help you understand why!

Now you are ready.  As you try more wines, you might want to start taking notes so that you can tell us what you do and don’t enjoy.  It is easier for Petter Wine Gallery to recommend a wine when you can describe what you like.

Here are a few things to note.


WHITES:  Young white wines often start pale in color and older white wines take on a color of straw.  Aged whites may even take on a golden hue.  The grape varietal will also determine color, so keep this in mind.

REDS:  Young reds can be dark and opaque purple while older reds can take on a brick or even amber hue.  Again, grape varietal plays a factor.  Pinot noir, for example, is often paler  transparent red (especially cold climate pinots)  where a syrah can take on a dark purple opaque hue.

Nose:  Inhale deep and long and see how many aromas you can detect.  A more complex wine will divulge a diversified aroma.  Look for our aroma kit and see how many aromas you can name.  It is harder than you think!

Palate:  Accessing the palate of a wine is to look at its structure: sugar, tannin, acid, alcohol, and intensity of flavors.  What does this wine do to your mouth?  Is it acidic?  Do you feel it in your cheeks? Is it tannic?  Does it leave your tongue feeling dry or leathery?  Is it high in alcohol?  Do you feel a burning sensation? Are there residual sugars?  Is it sweet or dry?  Are there bubbles (Gas, frize, spritzing) and is that carbonation intended?

Body:  What is the consistency?  Is it thick and viscous or thin and light?  A wine with body often has a higher alcohol or sugar content.

Finish:   The sensation that lingers just after you swallow or spit the wine is the finish.  You might detect something different than what you smelled or tasted initially.

Flavor descriptors: These are just a few.  Learn to identify the flavors that please you!

White Wine:

Tree Fruit (peach, apple, pear, apricot)

Citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit)

Tropical (pineapple, banana, lychee, melon)

Floral (honeysuckle, rose, violet, orange blossom)

Herbs (green bell pepper, grass)

Minerality (wet stone)

How about this… butter, vanilla, toast, nutty.

Red Wine:

Berry (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, currant, pomegranate)

Cooked Fruit ( jam, raisin, fig, prune)

Spice (black pepper, anise)

Herbal (bell pepper, mint, eucalyptus, canned greens, olives, hay, tea)

Earth (mushroom, truffle, dusty, mold)

Sweet spice (cinnamon, clove)

How about this…  Cedar, tobacco, coffee, smoke, chocolate, leather.


Occasionally you will notice imperfections in wine.  These are not so pleasant.  Do you detect vinegar, sweaty gym socks, mold, rotten eggs, onion or garlic?  These are indicators of faults!  Either oxidization has occurred or perhaps a wild yeast strain or naturally occurring bacteria has ruined the wine.

Now you have the tools you need to discover your palate and identify flavors you prefer.   Petter Wine Gallery is ready to recommend your wine!



Pure Michigan is a Great Place to Make Wine


At the Petter Wine Gallery, Wine is art.

Like art, wines value is subject to personal interpretation.  Like art, wine evokes emotion and enhances food and atmosphere.

Our artists (the vintners) sculpt the juice of their grapes into wine, but there is more involved than the artists touch.  It’s a matter or terroir.  Terroir: the geography, geology, and climate of a certain place, and how it interacts with the plants genetics.

Terroir can be loosely translated as the sense of place.  For wine it is a combination of temperature, humidity, elevation, soil content, and wind which all effect the flavor of the wine.

Since wine is a pure reflection of its terroir, each harvest yields wines that are the culmination of different climatic and human processes and no two wines are ever identical.

When the vintner has completed sculpting the effects of the terroir into wine, we have the pleasure of tasting.  Like art, our interpretation of this wine can be as simple or complex as we wish: on one level it can be an immediate sensory pleasure, or at a deeper level, the embodiment of a piece of land and a moment in time.

Petter Wine Gallery is excited about Michigan wine and our local artist vintners

No one can deny that Mediterranean Europe is the heartland of viticulture.  Its origins date back to Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.  But in the 16th Century, Europeans ventured into the New World and their religions and Vines went with them.  By the end of the 20th Century, the world had over 8 million hectares under vine and was producing nearly 300 million hectoliters of wine all over the world.

The world map of wine below illustrates that the grape friendly growing climates are concentrated between roughly 30 and 50 degrees in the northern hemisphere and 30 and 50 degrees in the southern hemisphere.


Image courtesy of

As you can see, Michigan is located within the grape friendly isothermal belt for the northern hemisphere.

Over the last 100 years, the transplanted Europeans have developed numerous new growing regions.   Many of those regions (like California) have proved easy vineyard territory where grapes grow prolifically in the hot dry climates with little apparent effort.  These hot dry climates yield a sweet grape, but more and more producers have found that when the vines have to work harder to survive, grapes tend to develop more refined flavors.

Our Michigan grapes have to struggle a bit to survive in this cooler Michigan terroir.  At Petter Wine Gallery we occasionally joke about our starving Michigan artists, we are referring to the GRAPES!

Ultimately, the best wines come from the vineyards where midsummer heat and midwinter cold is tempered by the soothing effects of an ocean, lake, river or coast line.

Look around, Michigan is coast line.

Our artist vintners know that this Michigan terroir is all important and that the resulting wines have the most harmonious composition with acidity, sweetness, fruit flavors, and tannins all poised to perfection.

The Michigan Grape and Wine Industry Council, VESTA (Viticulture and Enology Science and Technology Alliance), along with Michigan State University Institute of Agricultural Technology are also acutely aware of the value of our terroir, and are investing time technology and capital in our state!  MSU started planting grapes with cooperation from Michigan farmers 30 years ago, and we are reaping (and drinking) the benefits.

With 126 wineries and growing, Michigan is Wine Country!

Michigan's Wine Trails

Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country

Visit Website

They call Lake Michigan Shore Wine Country the Napa Valley of the Midwest. Like the hills of California, this land is ideal for handcrafting fine wines. And our charming resort towns and incredible shoreline are like bottles of bubbly waiting to be uncorked. Visit our website to discover more than a dozen Southwest Michigan wineries and tasting rooms, each with its own style. Create your own wine tour. Make it a romantic getaway. Or take a leisurely road trip with friends to discover your favorite vintages. Try a cooking class. Or revel in our festivals. Our website is full of ideas, including places to eat, sleep and play along Lake Michigan's beautiful shores. Let the good times begin!

Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association

Visit Website

The mission of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association (LPVA) is to help spread the word about all the good things happening in the Leelanau Peninsula along Michigan's Wine Coast. Our cool-climate Michigan wines go beautifully with food and have been winning increasing national and international awards and praise each and every year. We are committed to providing world-class wine touring experiences on the Leelanau Peninsula in concert with other businesses and organizations in our region and industry. We invite you to visit our website to learn more about Leelanau County wineries and other businesses on the Leelanau Peninsula.

Southeast Michigan Pioneer Wine Trail

Visit Website

Southeast Michigan's newest pioneers are the vintners of the early 21st century, growing and selling special wines for you to discover. Southeastern Michigan's Pioneer wine making region is a great place to spend a few hours ... or a few days! The beautiful rolling Irish Hills, many lakes and Hidden Lake Gardens are right along the trail. Relax, savor our wines, stop for some antiquing and perhaps stay in one of the many bed and breakfast inns in the area.

Sunrise Side Wine and Hops Trail

Visit Website

Known for its location and convenience, Michigan's Sunrise Side Wine & Hops Trail entices thousands of visitors each year to experience more than a dozen one-of-a-kind attractions, including winery tasting rooms, craft breweries and locally owned eateries. Wine and hops aficionados will discover beautiful scenic views and quaint towns rich in history and flavor. Spend a day or more traveling through Michigan's friendly Sunrise Coast. The thrill of discovery is Pure Michigan.

West Michigan Wine and Beer Trail

Visit Website

West Michigan is brimming with beauty, with everything from rolling sand dunes, breathtaking beaches and charming resort towns nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan to the tranquil spans of farmlands and the urban grandeurs of Grand Rapids. The unique micro climatic conditions in West Michigan make it the perfect place for growing grapes, hops and all sorts of other produce. Known as the Fruit Ridge, a group of counties within the region have become popular agritourism destinations, attracting visitors from far and wide year round. The West Michigan Wine & Beer Trail is the most recent addition to the mix, extending from Holland to Ludington and east to Grand Rapids. Each winery, brewery and mill taking part in the West Michigan Wine & Beer Trail has its own distinct atmosphere. Come explore and taste all that West Michigan has to offer.

Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula

Visit Website

Jutting north between the azure arms of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay lies Old Mission Peninsula. Situated at the globe's 45th parallel -- the ideal climate for growing varietal wine grapes -- the seven distinct wineries that comprise this stunning appellation have been well recognized by international wine enthusiasts. Discover the beauty of the Old Mission Peninsula and experience its award-winning wines: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gewerztraminer, sparkling varieties and the prestigious ice wines. Visit our renowned wine trail today!

- See more at

See some of our medal winners here!

Have You Heard of These Grapes?

Most of us are familiar with the French varietals that are grown across the globe. You may not be familiar with some of the cold hearty grapes being used in Michigan wines.

FRONTENAC BLANC – The genetic material of Frontenac is proving to be prone to color mutations and there are spontaneous mutations appearing at various locations around the northland. In fact, one appears to ripen to a lovely gold and another has arisen from a Frontenac Gris vine. The University of Minnesota is reportedly making a collection of them and is finding each clone makes a wine, unique unto itself. The one most commonly available for sale nowadays is from Quebec where it is reported to make a straight forward, neutral, California-style white wine. Winemakers in Quebec have been enthusiastic about the wine and growers there report the fruit ripens about 10 days earlier than the original red.


PRAIRIE STAR – This Swenson Hybrid commonly produces a lovely, medium bodied, well balanced white wine. The name is a play on the words of a town near Elmer’s home “Star Prairie”. It was selected by two long time growers and winemakers Tom Plocher and Bob Parke who worked closely with Elmer for years and are co-authors of the book Northern Wineworks. Released as a medium bodied, well balanced white, suitable for blending experience has shown that it makes a creditable varietal as well, reminding some of Sauvignon Blanc.


LOUISE SWENSON – This Swenson Hybrid was named for Elmer’s wife and is usually simply called “Louise.” It was selected by Tom Plocher and Bob Parke for its excellent disease resistance, hardiness, reliability and excellent wine characteristics. It tends to be slow to establish and come into bearing but often does not need to be sprayed. It produces a slightly honey flavored, very light white wine with a great flowery aroma. However, Louise wines tend to be so light that it is routinely blended with wines like Prairie Star, Lacrosse or Frontenac Blanc for body. It is slow to get sugar above 18% and some winemakers feel if left on the vine it makes a creditable white varietal. It also makes a tasty, handsome, bright seeded table grape.


BRIANNA – An Elmer Swenson Hybrid that comes to us via Nebraska where grape grower, breeder and winemaker Ed Swanson selected it as a strong grower and reliable producer. As a white Ed named it Brianna as the female version of Brian which means strong. It ripens in most areas early in September and makes a delicious, fruity and aromatic wine. Since it was selected in Nebraska there was some concern about its hardiness but experience has shown it to be reliable in this regard. In fact anecdotal evidence indicates it is prospering even into Manitoba, fully as strong as Ed predicted. Delicious seeded table grape as well.


LACRESCENT – A University of Minnesota introduction that makes a delightful and rather complex white wine that is proving to be enormously popular with the public. Characterized by melon, tropical fruit and some say, slight Muscat flavors which is in its background, this wine, when vinted dry, tends to be acetic and harsh with little aroma. When finished sweet, however, Lacrescent becomes, soft and rich, full of fruit flavors and lush fruit aroma. Unfortunately it is very vigorous growing and many growers are struggling with it culturally and have concern that it is not reliable. While it may well make the best of the new kinds of wines coming from the Midwest, until its cultural (?) problems are solved, it may not be with us for long.


EDELWEISS – Originally selected as the ES#40 this was one of Elmer’s earliest hybrids. Tested in New England by fruit breeder, the late Elwyn Meader. He loved it and marketed it successfully as a table grape “White Concord”. Winery owner John Canepa planted it in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and was apparently the first to use it as a wine grape. It was he who named it “Edelweiss. It was released through the University of Minnesota without a patent in the 1970s as a table grape. It languished in Wisconsin and Minnesota because of marginal hardiness but became established as a wine variety in Nebraska where it has become enormously popular. Liquor stores there report greater demand for Edelweiss wine than for any white to include any California Chardonnay, French Bordeaux or cut-rate Australian white. It is said to be close to that position in Iowa as well. It has won some prestigious “Best of show” awards in California and as a result has become an established and even revered wine grape in some areas.


ST. PEPIN – A Swenson Hybrid that makes a delicate and aromatic wine that has become popular with the wine drinking public. Unfortunately to go with its delicate, flowery and feminine character the vine is pistillate and must be planted near other grapes that flower with it or pollination is uncertain and production erratic. Nevertheless it makes a delightful wine with crisp acidity and fresh aroma not requiring oak aging or blending. Winemakers and drinkers have found St. Pepin extremely desirable, unlike anything available from California or elsewhere. It is a wine with great commercial appeal, an excellent example of the new kind of wine only the Midwest can offer. These are some of the white wines eastern winemakers can offer. They were developed to make grape growing and wine production feasible in cold climates where wine was not produced in past. Instead these grapes have mated with our climate and given us a class of wines that the public loves and only we can produce.