Don't just grab and gulp you barbarian! Engage all your senses to get the most from each style of mead you sample.
Color - bright or dull?
Clarity - clear or crystal clear?
Sediment - does the mead require decanting?
Legs - Is the mead thin or does it coat the glass?
Inhale the meads bouquet, wait 10 or 15 seconds to let your olfactory system readjust, and repeat. This will allow you to get the most out of the aroma.
Take a small sip; hold the mead in your mouth for a couple of seconds. Try to identify primary and secondary flavor components and aftertaste. Wait 10-15 seconds before taking another sip. The first two sips are the most illuminating.
Still or Sparkling, Dry to Sweet
Mead can range from dry to sweet, it's bouquet and flavor can range from simple to complex and its strength can range from delicate to powerful.
Good meads exhibit the qualities of the honey used. Like wine and champagne, mead can be sweet or dry. The style produced is dependant to a large degree on three factors, the type of yeast, amount of honey used, and fermentation time. Like beer, which require the balancing bitterness of hops against the sweetness of malt, sweet meads often need something to offset an otherwise syrupy taste,. Mead makers often use citric, malic, or tartaric acids to duplicate the effect of acids in sweet white wines, which provides a tangy counterpoint to the honey's sweetness. The use of other flavor additives offers a wide taste range of very different mead styles.
At the end of its fermentation cycle, the mead maker has still another style option. Will the final product be still or sparkling? If sparkling is selected carbonation is introduced naturally, through in-bottle fermentation referred to as the méthode champenoise, or through forced carbonization (co2 injection). High quality, sparkling dry mead tastes something like a honeyed champagne. If carbonation is not elected, the mead is referred to as still, similar in body to a still wine.
As with most beverages, the key to unlocking a meads complex flavor lies in serving it at optimum temperature and allowing the meads to "breathe" before serving. The preferred method is to serve it from a decanter. Mead decanters have a wide base and a ribbed neck to allow the liquid to aerate as it's poured into and from the decanter. This aeration helps the mead to release all of its hidden components.
Mead benefits from aging. Some makers are now experimenting with aging them in wood. With many light meads on the market, three to six months of aging is the norm. Medium body meads usually require 2-3 year's. Heavy meads with lots of flavor components are usually aged much longer. An example in the extreme is an exceptional high-gravity Polish mead named "Jadwiga" which has an alcohol content of 17%, and is aged 25 years before bottling.
It's recommended consumers cellar their bottles for a few months and judge whether the additional ageing improves their taste.
Melomels (fruit meads), and meads which have an alcohol content less than 11% are best consumed within 1-2 years.
The recommendation of David Myers, "Chairman of the Mead" at Redstone meadery, is as follows "mead, like most beverages, is best stored in the dark at cellar temperatures (55-65F). But, due to honey's natural preservative qualities, mead is very resilient to heat, sunlight, etc. This makes mead the most "durable" of the wine family of beverages."