Fine Wine Online
To extract the maximum pleasure out of a glass of wine, you have to taste rather than drink it. That is not to say you have to go through the rather daunting ritual of sucking and slurping practised by professional tasters, but you do need to do more than simply pour it down your throat…unfortunately!
In fact, even the word ‘tasting’ is misleading because what is much more important than taste is smell. It is the nose that picks up the individual flavour compounds from the 10,000-odd different combinations that can be perceived. The mouth – or rather the tongue – is only capable of detecting saltiness, sweetness, acidity and bitterness.
Most people have a natural preference for sweetness and dislike bitterness. The taste for sharp, tart flavours is acquired, which is why the majority of drinkers start off liking sweet, white wines then develop a taste for drier ones, and only eventually come to enjoy full-bodied reds. Your own preferences are also likely to evolve over the years in the same way as you might graduate from drinking your coffee with milk and two sugars to preferring a strong blast of double espresso. When you first start drinking, you’re likely to be drawn to the simple upfront fruit of young wines, particularly those from the New World. After a while, the subtler, more complex flavours and finer, silkier textures of older wines become more satisfying. And considering the huge variation in the number of taste buds people have and how they are distributed (some people have much more closely clustered taste buds than others), it’s surprising there’s not more variation in the wines that appeal to us and those that don’t.
Much of what is understood by ‘having a good palate’ is simply possessing the vocabulary to describe what you’re tasting. People don’t necessarily expect to find flavours such as butter, honey or toast in wine. As you become a more experienced taster, you develop what the professionals call a ‘palate memory’, meaning that you begin to recognise in wine flavours that you’ve come across before and link them with other wines you’ve tasted – this is how the professionals, who have developed this capacity, perform well in blind tastings.
The taste of a wine can also be affected by what you eat with it, which is why tasters only eat plain water biscuits when they’re tasting. If you want to experiment for yourself, try a sip of red wine after nibbling a piece of cheese. Then try the same wine after a slice of apple. See how the food exaggerates the characteristics of the wine and corrupts your palate.
If you want to practise honing your taste buds at home, there are four stages to focus on, that is, after you’ve poured your wine into a decent-sized glass, remembering not to fill it more than half-full. First, you should take a look at the wine to check that it’s clear and bright. The intensity and depth of colour will also give you a clue to its strength although wines do alter with age – whites become darker and reds tend to fade.
Swirl the wine in the glass, then stick your nose in and sniff. This will tell you whether or not the wine is faulty and reveal its character. If you are tasting a chardonnay, for example, this step will reveal whether it tastes of citrus or tropical fruit.
Next, take a sip, hold it in your mouth for a moment and swallow. This will tell you more about the texture or ‘mouthfeel’ of the wine – whether it’s sharp or smooth – than what we think of as the flavour. If you want to maximise this experience, suck air over your tongue as you hold the wine in your mouth. You will make some very professional-sounding slurping noises, and it is this technique that helps to release the wine’s flavours and aromas.
Finally, remember to take note of any aftertaste. Good wines have what’s known in the trade as a long finish – the flavour lingers on and on. And you shouldn’t deprive yourself of the pleasure by moving on too quickly to the next mouthful…..