Learn How to Taste Wine and Develop Your Palate (PART 1)

Learn how to taste wine with 4 basic steps. The following wine tasting tips are practiced by sommeliers to refine their palates and sharpen their ability to recall wines. Even though this method is used by pros, it’s actually quite simple to understand and can help anyone to improve their wine palate.

Anyone can taste wine, all you need is a glass of wine and your brain. There are 4 steps to wine tasting:

Look: A visual inspection of the wine under neutral lighting
Smell: Identify aromas through orthonasal olfaction (e.g. breathing through your nose)
Taste: Assess both the taste structure (sour, bitter, sweet) and flavors derived from retronasal olfaction (e.g. breathing with the back of your nose)

Think/Conclude: Develop a complete profile of a wine that can be stored in your long term memory.

how-to-taste-wine-steps

How to Taste Wine
1. Look

Check out the color, opacity, and viscosity (wine legs). You don’t really need to spend more than 5 seconds on this step. A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance, but unless you’re tasting blind, most of the answers that those clues provide will be found on the bottle (i.e. vintage, alcohol %, grape variety).

2. Smell

When you first start smelling wine, think big to small. Are there fruits? Think of broad categories first, i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits. Getting too specific or looking for one particular note can lead to frustration. Broadly, you can divide the nose of a wine into three primary categories:

Primary Aromas are grape-derivative and include fruit-driven, herbal, and floral notes.
Secondary Aromas come from winemaking practices. The most common aromas are yeast-derivative and are most easy to spot in white wines: cheese rind, nut husk (almond, peanut), or stale beer.
Tertiary Aromas come from aging, usually in bottle, or possibly in oak. These aromas are mostly savory: roasted nuts, baking spice, vanilla, autumn leaves, old tobacco, cured leather, or mushroom.

3. Taste

Taste is how we use our tongues to observe the wine, but also, once you swallow the wine, the aromas may change because you’re receiving them retro-nasally.

Taste: Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid. This varies with climate and grape type. Some varieties are known for their bitterness (i.e. Pinot Grigio), and it manifests as a sort of light, pleasant tonic-water-type flavor. Some white table wines have a small portion of their grape sugars retained, and this adds natural sweetness. You can’t ever smell sweetness though, since only your tongue can detect it. Lastly, very few wines have a salty quality, but in some rare instances salty reds and whites exist.
Texture: Your tongue can “touch” the wine and perceive its texture. Texture in wine is related to a few factors, but an increase in texture is almost always happens in a higher-alcohol, riper wine. Ethanol gives a wine texture because we perceive it as “richer” than water. We also can detect tannins with our tongue, which are that sand-paper or tongue-depressor drying sensation in red wines.
Length: The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). How long does it take before the flavor of the wine isn’t with you anymore?

4. Think

Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance (i.e. too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic)? Did you like the wine? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Were there any characteristics that shined through and impressed you?

Helpful Tasting Tips

Getting past the “wine” smell: it can be difficult to move beyond the vinous flavor. A good technique is to alternate between small, short sniffs and slow, long sniffs.

Learn to Swirl: The act of swirling wine actually increases the number of aroma compounds that are released into the air. Watch a short video on how to swirl wine.

Find More Flavors When You Taste: Try coating your mouth with a larger sip of wine followed by several smaller sips so that you can isolate and pick out flavors. Focus on one flavor at a time. Always be thinking from broad-based flavors to more specific ones, i.e. the general “black fruits” to the more specific, “dark plum, roasted mulberry, or jammy blackberry.”
Improve Your Tasting Skills Faster: Comparing different wines in the same setting will help you improve your palate faster, and it also makes wine aromas more obvious. Get a flight of “tastes” at your local wine bar, join a local tasting group, or gather some friends to taste several wines all at once. You’ll be shocked by how much side-by-sides of different varieties will show you!

Overloaded With Aromas? Neutralize your nose by sniffing your forearm.

How to Write Useful Tasting Notes: If you’re someone who learns by doing, taking tasting notes will be very useful to you. Check out this useful technique on taking accurate tasting notes.

wine-tasting-professional-analysis-station
A professional taster’s analysis station in Rioja, Spain

Learn How to Taste Wine and Develop Your Palate (Part 2) click here!

Source: Wine Folly

Article: Learn How to Taste Wine and Develop Your Palate

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