So you want to learn how to taste wine? First of all, congratulations on an excellent choice of a fabulous hobby! I may be a little biased, but clearly wine tasting is an exercise that I enjoy more than… pretty much anything! What was once a hobby, turned into an obsession, and after formal training, became my career.
But I digress…
Many people feel that they are incapable of picking out flavours in wine. When you read the back label of a bottle that lists notes of peach, lychee, and lemongrass… then take a sniff and a swig and fall short on getting well… any of that… it can be easy to feel discouraged and assume that something is wrong with you and your palate.
I am here to comfort you… because this is often not the case.
We all start somewhere in our journey into loving and exploring wine. Wine tasting is a skill – and a skill that is learned – through great practice, over time.
I know… that sounds horrible. You have to practice tasting wine. Let the idea of that homework sink in for a minute…
While there are some of us that are blessed with highly sensitive taste buds, most of us have been given an average palate, and frankly don’t usually take much time to stop, pause and really think slowly about what they are drinking in our day to day lives.
This is where focused practice comes in.
There are a few items you will need in order to get started:
Multiple wine glasses that are all the SAME SHAPE AND SIZE
This is an important part of learning how to taste wine. Many people assume that the idea behind serving a wine in a different glass changing the flavour is nothing more than a myth of glass maker marketing. But the truth is that frankly SIZE AND SHAPE MATTER… and that is not just what she said…
Ever go to a wine tasting festival and think to yourself – why did they give me this little tulip shaped glass… this is horrible to taste wine in! Well there is a reason why they chose it. As professionals this shape is known as an ISO tasting glass, and is very similar to a port wine glass, also commonly known as a ‘tulip’ shape. This is the style of glass that many Sommeliers use when evaluating wines systemically. No matter what type of wine they are drinking. The reason is because different sizes and bowl shapes do indeed alter the taste, and if you are evaluating wine for a living, trying to mentally compare a new wine to one you serve in your restaurant – you want to keep everyone on the same playing field. Your glass is a calibration tool. Even at home, make sure you use glasses that are the same size and shape, and have enough of them to sip from multiple samples at once.
A queue card for picking out flavours in wine – We can email you one here!
You could blindly sit down in front of your glasses of wine and try to think of the 1,000,000 possible flavours that could come to your mind from recent or not so recent memory – but frankly you are making things much much harder on yourself. Most red and white wines fall into particular flavour spectrums. White wines have the potential for typical common flavours, and red wines have their own potential for alternate common flavours. Of course any flavour queue card that you have cannot be an exhaustive list – but when learning it is important to narrow your focus to only looking for a few items – not a million. You will learn faster and have greater success that way.
We have developed a queue card that is easy to print out and keep safely in a kitchen drawer or on your fridge. Use it every time you try a new wine at home, and take notes! Note the ideal serving temperatures indicated on the Wine Tasting Guide, and ensure the wines that you taste are chilled appropriately before starting.
Pen and paper
When going through your wines write down what you find! Try and stick with items on your queue card to start, and then add your own personal extras
QUALITY Wine – Minimum 2, preferably 3 or more to compare back to back
Often when people start tasting wine, they are scared to invest more than say $15 into a bottle for research purposes. Sadly the reality is, that unless you pick a quality wine, it is unlikely that you will be able to dig many recognizable flavours out of it. That is why all of the wines tasted in our courses and at our Wine Club events are usually in the $25-$150/per bottle range. Less expensive, mass produced wines simply do not offer a level of intensity or flavour complexity to allow you to pick our flavours easily. This is a sweeping generalization – but if you do not know what you are looking for in order to I.D. A quality less expensive bottle, you will probably waste more money on wines that fall short, and not learn much about tasting along the way – unless of course you start to stick your $8 bottle next to your $40 for comparison purposes!
There is much that can be learned in trying wines back to back. Often you need to have different wines for ‘calibration’ purposes. Without having the ability to go back and forth between different wines, it can be difficult to pick out the different flavours in them, and fall into the “it all tastes like wine to me” trap. That is why in all of our classes and events we try to taste at least 5.
An area that is well lit, and free of background odours
This includes avoiding dousing yourself in perfume, or cooking and eating a blue cheese and onion burger before digging into your wine experiment. You don’t want anything to compete with the subtle flavours you are about to try to find.
This is my favourite part about tasting wine! Give yourself a solid time out from everything else to slip away and think about NOTING but flavours and aromas. To put this into perspective – as a professional I usually spend a solid 15minutes picking apart a wine – when learning I used to spend waaay longer. Try and remove all other distractions and let yourself focus only on what is in your glass. For me… this is like my Mommy Time Out!
Not necessary… but having a great group get together to share a few bottles makes for a much more enjoyable time. Friends are ideal to share your flavour thoughts with! We all detect things differently, and I believe that in wine, for enjoyment purposes there are no right or wrong flavour answers. We all have a set of memories and bring our different expereinces to the table. Sometimes a friend will be able to pick out something that will suddenly allow you to pinpoint your finger on a flavour and say “Ah ha! That was it!”
Let’s face it, it also helps to be able to share the cost of buying multiple bottles of wine with friends, otherwise this can become a very expensive hobby in no time! But a fun one!
These are the reasons why I started the Vine Life Wine Club – to allow people to get together and enjoy great wines, that they normally would not be able to get on their own and sit and discuss them with their friends!
Prefer to discover in the privacy of your own home? Not a problem! Be sure to join in for our #winewednesday Facebook Videos at http://www.facebook.com/vinelifewine Wednesday evenings at 9pm MST. Where we walk through tasting wines and educating not only about their flavours, but the stories in behind the art that went into producing each bottle.
OK… I have my supplies and a quiet space,
my best friends… now what?!
Pour yourself a small sample of each wine – preferably in the order of least intense flavour to most intense, and taste them in order. Taste only a small amount of each one, taking notes on each first impression along the way. Over time, the more alcohol you consume, the duller your senses will become. It is why many people choose to spit when learning, even at home. Work your way through the list of possibilities on your queue card in the White column if you are drinking white, or the Red Column if you are drinking a red. After moving through your wines in order (Whites first as a group, then your reds together as a group), you can then go back and forth between different wines.
If you want to skip back to a light white wine after drinking a bold red – try eating a plain cracker, and sipping some water to cleanse your palate in between wines. If you don’t, you will probably find that the flavours of the last wine will overpower the subtle flavours of the lighter wine, making it impossible to taste. Though don’t just take my word for it, give it a try!
Note any differences and personal preferences along the way – and most importantly – HAVE FUN! And try not to take it too seriously! This is not a test!
Over time you will learn to pull out flavours if you allow yourself the opportunity to do so!
Remember to think of your palate like a muscle – you have to work it in order for it to become more in tune! Ever try going on a sugar or sodium restricted diet? People who have probably remember the adjustment period, and how bland things tasted at first because they were used to heavily sweetened or salted foods. However, after getting used to having less, and allowed the opportunity to re introduce salt or sugar, it was probably easier to feel satisfied with smaller amounts. The same thing can go for wine tasting. Give yourself a break and remember that all things require practice and a little getting used to! Most importantly – enjoy the journey!
Want to learn more about the Vine Life Wine Club? We get together at some of the best restaurants and share some of the best bottles possible, and in the name of savouring, laughing, and learning! Members also save on their wine purchases and dining experiences when they show their Club Cards with our partners. Click here to get the brochure!