The first thing I’d answer is WHY you should want to be truly able to taste wine better? Well, I am really keen to encourage you to embrace this fascinating topic. To truly appreciate the range of wine styles possible, dry, sweet, reds, whites and rosé’s, you need to be able to be aware. And when you are aware, you can define your own preferences and look for those bargains. Like music. To appreciate music in all its glory, you need to understand a little about musical structure, keys, and styles. To truly understand the topic, you need to hear rock, punk, classical, country, garage, jazz, etc. etc. to put it all into perspective. Beyond this, what you play at home is up to you.
The great line is “Buy on apple, sell on cheese”, as told to me by a wine tutor many moons ago. He then embarked on describing how to really taste wine. So, what does this all mean? It means in the old days a merchant would sell wine by offering cheese with it - which helps the taste. Apple is acid, and so brings out the harshness or any wine – so you could judge the quality better eating apple first before tasting to buy. Cunning.
Taste is still quite a mystery – how our taste buds and sensors turn what they detect into our ability to sense a taste or a smell. Seeing what we are drinking helps this process too.
Same with wine. So learning to taste, to be able to listen rather than hear, means you’re not looking for your own personal likes. That comes later. I was once guided through a Port tasting – showing the styles and possibilities. I am not anti-port, but it’s not my personal choice – it is vital to seek some knowledge of it to understand fortified wines of all kinds – an important part of the wine world.
So here’s lesson 1 to start to open your senses properly…….and you can do this with your next glass….
1. Before you drink, really LOOK at the colour and appearance of the wine. Try to describe the colour – straw, deep yellow, honey coloured, light red, deep red etc. Swirl it around – is it viscous or not? With reds in particular, if the rim of the wine appears browner than the rest, this is a sign of a few years of ageing.
2. SMELL – stick your nose in the glass and really sniff. THINK about the smells – grass, lemon, honey, raspberry jam ……and yes give a smell a name you can remember – farms, hay, mown grass.
3. Taste – take a mouthful, slosh it around a bit and swallow. THINK about the taste. With many wines the taste evolves and changes. Some wines “taste” can change over 20 seconds or so. Try to describe the taste – red berries, melon, apricots etc.
Now, just get a note book and write all your thoughts down. Nothing is silly or stupid – it’s whatever will help you DEFINE the tastes and smells and maybe recall them later.
So, there we are. You are on the way. See if you can detect different grape varieties. I’m not an expert now, but years ago I found actually making myself describe smells and tastes and the appearances of wine was totally new to me and opened up a whole new world – which will never come to an end!