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foods for wine tasting education

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I once saw something I'd like to try in regards to wine tasting--I think it was at a vineyard tour on Fine Living TV. To help taste the wine, they had pieces of something sweet, something salty, something tart, and something bitter. The only one I can remember is apple. It doesn't have to be from this particular episode, but does anyone know how this is done? It's not really about getting foods that "go" with wine, but how to train your pallate to taste the different nuances of how different tastes can effect wine. I want to try this--any ideas?

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  1. You're asking about flavor identification in wine. The gist of it is if you smell and taste a slice of apple, then you may be able to pick out that smell and/or taste in Chardonnay. Same with pear, for Chardonnay.

    Choose a couple of white wines or red wines (among Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet, etc.), then read the aroma and flavor descriptions of those wines. (Often the winery website will have these listed on the wine descriptions or tech sheets.)

    Gather and label the foodstuffs listed -- you can use a large white platter or big white sheet of paper or little 1-inch plastic tasting cups for this. Generally the fruit flavors that show up in white wines are: lime, lemon, grapefruit, orange peel, kiwi, pear, apple, pineapple, mango, and honeydew. Flavors in red wines (fruit and beyond) are: strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate, cherry, blueberry, blackberry, cinnamon, mint, clove, cocoa, dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco.

    Of course, there are hundreds more flavors, but the above will get you started.

    So the procedure is to smell the food, then smell the wine looking for a *subtle* representation of that smell in the wine. It will be subtle. And it may or may not be there. Do this for each assembled ingredient. Then taste. Be careful to not take too big a sniff or too big a taste of the ingredient, or you'll overwhelm your senses and not be able to detect subtleties.

    Don't think the sweet, sour, salty, bitter thing will get you anywhere. Those aren't the flavors you taste in wine anyway.

    1. There are two forms of component tastings.

      The basic one -- adding sweet, sour, salt, and bitter to distilled water in low levels, high levels, and then in wine IS useful for identifying and understanding where each component is perceived on the palate. That said, its use is limited, and by far the more important type of component tasting is the type described by Maria Lorraine.

      I've done these tastings where the components are in little plastic cups (e.g.: diced ripe pear in a plastic cup; shaved chocolate in a plastic cup), and I've done them where the component is deliberately added to a wine (a glass of white base wine with diced pear in it; a glass of red wine with shaved chocolate in it). Both work. One is easier to clean up.