After years of consistent practice and daily wine tasting, sommeliers’ palates are well-trained to distinguish thousands of different scents and flavors that can be present in wine. Wine is a complex business, and knowing what to look for when tasting is an art.
While you may think wine stewards are extraordinarily talented and sensitive to different tastes, it is a skill they have developed over the years. Anyone can improve their palate for fine wine tasting – and while some people really do have a talent for it, wine appreciation can be taught.
Your perception of the wine’s flavor and bouquet can change as the years pass on and you develop your palate. Over time you will start noticing more hidden notes such as oyster scents, black tea flavors, and a chalk-like aroma that some fine wines contain. If you practice long enough, you might even be able to spot the secret violet top note that even the most experienced sommeliers struggle to find at times.
Fine wine tasting is a hard task, but once you become an expert, you will see it is worth dedicating time to learning about the flavors and scents of various fine wines. If you are down for the challenge, here is the ultimate guide to improving your palate for fine wine tasting.
Start Slowly and Work Your Way Up
There is no use in starting the fine wine tasting journey with rare and finesse wines from reputable wine houses such as Acker Wines or Wine Dispensary. The products they offer often come with tricky and well-hidden scents hard to distinguish for the novice.
Start by buying several different fine wines in the local shop. Taste wine that comes from diverse places: Bordeaux, California, Tuscany, Oregon, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Australia, Italy or Portugal. Try to associate the flavor similarities and distinguish the differences. That way, you will become familiar with the most common wines and the typical regional taste they have.
Learn to distinguish between different varieties of wine – Shiraz, Cabernet, Bordeaux, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chianti – there are probably thousands of different blends and mixes, but remember that wine is most often separated into five types of wine – this is where you should start. The very basics: Red, White, Rose, Sparkling and Dessert.
Once your palace becomes trained in determining the most fundamental tastes of the most basic wines, you are ready to move onto the more complex and advanced ones.
Learn to Look for Aromas First
Your first impression of wine comes from the sense of smell and the olfactory receptors located in the back of your mouth. Learn to look for the aromas, the first thing you do when you taste fine wine.
There are five typical primary notes that you will feel in the different wines.
When it comes to fruit flavors and aromas in wines, your palate should be able to differentiate:
- Tropical – lychee, pineapple, mango.
- Citrus – lime, lemon, grapefruit.
- Red – strawberries, cherry, raspberry.
- Black – plum, blackcurrant.
There are two different types of vegetables that you may feel:
- Green – bell pepper, green beans, grass. Look for those aromas, especially when you taste fine red wine.
- Herbaceous – sage, parsley, tomato leaf. These are common in white wines.
Spicy aromas that can be found in various wines include:
- Tobacco – leather, cigar, and smoke scent.
- Pepper – black, white, and red peppercorn scent.
- Licorice – mint, fennel, and anise scent.
- Baking – vanilla, ginger, and cinnamon scent.
Floral flavors differ depending on the wine color. White wines come with light floral aromas such as lily, citrus blossom, and honeysuckle. You will feel florals like lavender, violet, and potpourri in the red ones.
There are four most commonly recognized minerals in a wine – graphite, limestone, flint, and quartz.
Learn the Numbers
Tasting wine is more than just training yourself to distinguish the tastes. It requires a lot of background knowledge, as well.
A wine’s mouth feel comes directly from its alcohol content. Every wine has a set amount of alcohol it should contain. By the rule of thumb, the higher the alcohol by volume, the stronger and fuller-bodied the wine will taste.
- More than 13.5% alcohol = full-bodied wine
- Between 12.5% and 13.5% alcohol = medium-bodied wine
- Less than 12.5% alcohol = light-bodied wine
Moreover, if you want to impress your friends when tasting wine, try to read a vinfolio blog once a month to stay up to with all the wine-related information and news.
If you want to taste wine the ultimate way, you should start with the cheaper and less fancy wines so you can explore the most basic differences. This way, you will train yourself in recognizing the typical flavors for various regions and wine colors.
Once you feel like an expert in the less expensive drinks, you can move on to the top-shelf wine products. When you taste fancy fine wine, remember to start by determining the aroma it has.
The five primary flavors and scents you can find in various wine types are fruits, vegetables, flowers, spices, and minerals.
Remember that every wine has a unique mix of features. Even if two drinks may feel similar, chances are they will differ in at least one of the aromatic characteristics. One of the most useful skills when tasting wine is self-awareness.