You are not drinking wine, you are tasting it!
Learning how to taste wine was one of the smartest things we ever did for our health. It seems counterintuitive but the process will taught us to crave more sophisticated foods. It all starts with the simple concept that you are not drinking wine, you are tasting it. This slight change in behavior changes everything. Having an acute sense of taste is no longer as important as it was in other parts of our evolutionary history. In our modern-day lives, we encounter very little food that might be toxic or poisonous. At the worst, we might need to sniff out the carton of milk. Now, perhaps you could argue that double bacon cheeseburgers are toxic, but not in the same way. Still, what we consume does define some aspects of our health and wine is no exception. By improving our sense of taste, we learn to discern what we like and why. Having a well-trained palate takes practice. We might be the proof enough that anyone can improve their palate with a little effort. All we did was change a few drinking habits, and once we did, we were able to accurately blind taste wine with about a year of practice. Here’s what we did:
Use Your Nose
The next time your about to eat or drink anything, take a second smell before you dive into a bite. Beginning to separate your taste (salty, sour, sweet, bitter) from aromas (the much more complicated world of smells). Stocking up on aromas from the real world is the best way to start building your library of tastes to then apply to wine. Paying attention to these real-world reference points will get you more comfortable with a language of taste.
When you’re eating food or drinking wine, just take a little more time: slow down, pay attention. Your sense of taste is in your mouth, so the more time the wine is in swirling around in your mouth, the more you’ll be able to taste it. Use more time in between sips too. Wines (especially good ones) change from the beginning to the end and even long after you’ve swallowed.
Close your eyes and try to forget that you are holding a glass of wine. What do you smell? We discover my craziest tasting notes while doing this process. Suddenly, a glass of wine becomes a pot of simmering cherry sauce on the stove or it is an uncanny aromatic equivalent to a musty basement. Give yourself permission to interpret and play in whatever way seems fit.
When you try the 3 habits mentioned above, you’re going to start tasting unusual or weird flavors. Writers often focus solely on aromas in wine i.e. “Redolent of autumn cherry blossom and coco flavors,” which is a kind of journalistic fluff. Wine will always key into our sour and bitter receptors with a sip, as it’s fundamentally tart and somewhat astringent (especially reds). Some people find these tastes unappealing, but pay attention to their intensity and you can start to paint pictures of how certain grapes generally present. When you start to recognize the plurality of harmonies between sweet, sour, bitter as well as the new aromas with every sip, you’re starting to understand the concept of balance in wine.
Taste Wine in Flights
Our brains have a much harder time identifying subtle nuances between wines in a vacuum. When you taste wines in comparative flights, you’ll quickly hone in on their differences (or similarities). Comparative tasting will build your mental repository of key indicators for each variety (Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah etc). Comparative tastings are key to forming your taste vocabulary. It might be very hard to tell Pinot is “red fruited” on it’s own, but when you put it next to a rich, “purple-fruited” Malbec, that perspective helps to discern the particularities of the two wines.