We very often hear people say, “I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know what I like.” Well, that is a great place to start! If you know what your palate leans towards then that’s fantastic! If you have no idea, but still really want to learn – don’t worry! As it turns out, everyone—and that means you—can train their palate to be more sensitive and perceptive. Like most things in life, it just takes a little practice.
Before we get into our tips the most important thing is to have fun! Wine tasting doesn’t have to be a pretentious or intimidating event. Everyone tastes different things. You’re not “doing it wrong” if someone else tastes all sorts of things that you might not. Just be open, relax and enjoy!
The first thing you want to do is look at the wine’s color. This is best to do in neutral light. Some people even hold it against a white tablecloth or piece of paper. You want to see how deep or subtle the color is. A lot of clues about a wine are buried in its appearance. And the more wine you look at the more all of your senses about wine come together.
When you first smell a wine, think big to small – look for the first big aroma that might stand out - i.e. citrus, orchard, or tropical fruits in whites or, when tasting reds, red fruits, blue fruits, or black fruits.
3. Swirl and smell again
Gently swirling mixes up the wine’s chemical compounds, making it more aromatic and helping you to identify scents you couldn’t find in the first smell.
This is where you’ll find secondary aromas and tertiary aromas (aromas mostly from aging). 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, either in-bottle or in oak. These aromas are generally savory – think nuts, woodiness, tobacco, leather and leaves.
Taste is how we use our tongues to observe the wine, but also, once you swallow the wine, the aromas may change because it is washing over your full palate. This is where you’ll be able to detect whether the wine is full-, medium- or light-bodied. You’ll also be able to identify the wine’s texture – is it oily or drying, for example? Wines that make your tongue feel dry usually contain more tannins.
Many people are surprised to learn our noses actually do the heavy lifting in wine tasting. Our tongues can detect salty, sour, sweet, or bitter. All wines are going to have some sour, because grapes all inherently have some acid.
The taste of wine is also time-based, there is a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). Ask yourself, how it takes until the wine isn’t with you anymore?
First of all – Did you like the wine? Did the wine taste balanced or out of balance (i.e. too acidic, too alcoholic, too tannic)? Was this wine unique or unmemorable? Write down your findings! There are is no right or wrong way to take notes. It is your experience after all.
6. Slow down and enjoy
We know how good that glass of wine tastes once it hits your lips after a long day! Coaching your wine palate becomes a hard act to follow when you haphazardly burn through wine bottles… as fun as that might be – until the next day.
Wine tasting skills won’t happen overnight, but once you find yourself identifying key elements of specific wines your confidence will build and enjoying wine will become that much more fun!
And speaking of fun... We'll say it again - be sure to have FUN with it and see what you discover.
We hope you find these tips helpful!
Melissa & Julia