Wine tasting and the wine talk that goes with it strikes many as silly and snobbish. It deserves a better reputation: There’s real insight and knowledge to be gained through thoughtful tasting. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when tasting, as opposed to drinking.
The idea that there are only four tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter – should be dismissed. Taste and smell are essentially one sense, and once that’s admitted, the truth that there are countless tastes emerges. Also the taste map of the tongue you’ll see in many guides has been proven wrong by modern science: you taste all tastes throughout your mouth and all the way down into your throat. Swirl, slosh wine about your mouth and swallow to confirm that!
Don’t agonize over the choice of stemware: Pick up a half dozen of the not very expensive Riedel or Spiegelau Cabernet Sauvignon stemware. It’s the most useful everyday glass as its ample size allows for the nosing and swirling so necessary for the full enjoyment of any wine.
Investigate a country or region’s wine and compare it to another’s, say, French and New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, and that way you’ll start to see the effect of climate, soil, and winemaking style on the taste of the wine. In other words, the concept of terroir will begin to take shape.
Finally, learn some basic wine terms and think of expanding that vocabulary over time. The best book, by far, to take on your wine tasting adventure is Michael Schuster’s Essential Winetasting (Mitchell Beazley, 2000).
Watch for our upcoming series on beer!