I can't smell or taste a ANY differences ....UGH
Wine isn't supposed to be difficult (BULLLSH*T!)
Ok, so I buy an oaky Chard. and an un-oaked Chard.
They both taste basically the same to me.
This is infuriating.
I REALLLY want to understand this, but this shit all tastes the same to me.
Oh, and the smell? SAME.
Wine is HANDS DOWN, the most complicated science I have EVER tried to grasp and understand.
There is almost ZERO enjoyment here. This is highly stressful and it is serious WORK, when considering the drinking, the time committment, and all the reading I am doing. It is like a part-time job that is seriously impacting my other interests.
I assume this will takes YEARS, perhaps DECADES before I can do things like skillfullly distinguish between an oaky vo non-oaked Chard. This is the most subtle esoteric science I have EVER endeavoured to undertake and master. EVER. It is probably easier to design a more efficient aerofoil.
But I am up for the challenge.
Life is easy.
Wine, on the other hand, is a Rubik's Cube on steriods, in terms of complexity. (Yes, I have solved that as well)
"Wine isn't supposed to be difficult" ??? God, that is the funniest thing I have heard ALL YEAR.
I realize it takes YEARS to get this down. DECADES. If not, I am starting to think this is all a big inside joke.. Perhaps, the entire industry is smoke and mirrors, and a con job to steal money from PT Barnum's victims....just like "modern art" and Wall St. But I will find out for myself.
Anyways....Tonight, I tasted a Tempranillo wine alongside a Merlot and a California Cab. I was able to tell that the Cab was more tannic than the Tempranillo. However, the Merlot and Cab tasted almost exactly the same. My books told me Merlot was a light drinking wine like Pinot. But not my mouth. It was puckered with that nasty sour itch that you get from a Cab
(On that note, tannic wine is supposed to be tasty? BLEH. Why not just eat leather? Honestly, I prefer Nestle Quik. Now THAT is sumptuous nectar for my palette...from the gods themeslves!! I could DIE and go to heaven if I could drink Gatorade and Chocolate milk. There is something that is OBVIOUSLY incredibly tasty. You don't need to talk yourself into liking it. "This is considered expensive and good, so I guess I like it. Otherwise, I am the ass". God, this infuriates me. But only makes me more OBSTINATE. I NEVER LOSE)
Hopefully I will be able to tell the difference within a few years. I am now gaining weight, but I will SUFFER through this hell it takes to undersand the nuances of wine. I have the time and money and endurance to make this happen.
What "more tannic" ultimately means to me, I have ZERO idea. But, I have memorized the fact that a tannic red goes with Steak, even though a Pinor Gris would go just as well, as far as I am concerned.
On that note, my next step is to try some BLATANT mismatched pairings, and see if there is ANY difference. Like Brie w/ Port. Champagne with a Hangar steak. etc. This might reinforce why classic pairings are just that.
The books say Oaky goes with buttery lobster.
Yea, well, the unoaked is basically the exact same damn thing, so BOTH go with lobster. So what's the point of all this subtle minutia distinction???
It's like trying to discern the difference between different bottled waters. I am sure there is a difference, but does it REALLY matter? You drink the damn water after a long day in the sun. At the end of the say, it's all god damn water.
I really want to "get" wine, but am starting to think it's a genetic skill, which means I am barking up the wrong tree. B/c if you have the AUDACITY to say "wine is easy, just enjoy" ONE of us is seriously missing the god damn point. In a HUGE way. Either it hits you in the face, or it NEVER will ??
With the amount of reading I have done already, I can fake this nonsense forever, and no one will be the wiser. But it would really be nice to actually think there is sometihng to this whole "wine" thing besides total bullshit or infintely subtlety that takes YEARS of training to discern.
My first wine instructor told me "drink what you like". Good wine is the wine you like to drink. It doesn't matter if I sneer at you for drinking MD20/20, if that's what you REALLY like.
Trying different wines gives you a basic notion of what you might prefer. If someone had suggested to me when I began that I try comparing two different chardonnays or a dry reisling vs. a gewurtz, I would have just tasted them and said "so what". Initially I liked Red zinfindel, Tawny or Vintage Port, Auslese+ Rieslings. These are all wines that ARE NOTHING like one another. A "difference" in a lot of wines was just neither apparent nor interesting to me. Yeah, Retsina tasted different, I remember that. (smile).
There is a lot of what I think of as "unnecessary" subtlety and nuance that people who are really into wine taut that regular folks just don't "get". Not that you can't have vast depths of complexity to it, you can, and it's legit. But. . .
Well let me try this.
There is a world of difference between me swinging a bat at a baseball and a member of the Durham Bulls swinging a bat at the same ball. What I see and interpret and think about, down to my perception of time passing as the ball comes at me, can be vastly different from what the trained player sees. He interprets all kinds of things almost unconsciously, because of training and developed reflexes and muscle memory practice, etc. I see the pitcher throw the ball and I try to keep my eye on it long enough to swing and hit it.
Poetry. Some people like limericks, some people like Shakespeare's sonnets, some people like Emily Dickinson. But try getting into a discussion of 20th century American poetry and the differences between that and 19th century English poetry, and you have just stepped off the deep end.
Literature, the same way, and with it a word of warning. IMHO, 90% of literary criticism is just horsepucky, written by people who need to publish to get a buck, or get credit for a class, or something. That doesn't mean the world of literature isn't grand and deep and lovely, what it does mean is that *some people* have their heads in the wrong place, and if you attack learning about literature via literary criticism writers you will decide that Literature is mostly bullpie. You learn about literature by reading books. You learn about wine by drinking some. If you pick up Herman Melville and hate it, it doesn't mean you won't like Octavia Butler. Some people who write about wine sound like literary critic writers to me...
Over time, with drinking many different wines, I got to the point where I could not only distinguish between 2 different chardonnays, but I have real preferences about them.
One thing that REALLY made a difference was going to the places where wine is made. If you make a connection to a place and a season: what it smells like, how the soil tastes, what kind of rocks grow there, what were these fields before vines grew there -- then my mind makes a connection when I drink wine that grew there. Maybe it's all mental suggestion, I don't know, because I also tend to associate wines I've drunk with the women I drank them with, the places where I drank them, shared meals or visceral memories of Autumn days in Harvard Square or Spring picnics in Duke Gardens.
Don't worry about "getting it" all now. Drink what you enjoy. Take advice with a grain of salt, especially mine. And don't forget to be honest with yourself. If you can't taste a difference, say so, because there is enough bulldoo in the world.
"Wine is bottled poetry."
Robert Louis Stevenson
Going back some years (do not know if they still offer this particular tasting), Beringer had a tasting program, that gave examples of most of what you are seeking to find. I did 3-4 of these at "wine society" events, but believe that they also offer(ed) them at the winery.
Basically, they present the wines (a rather bland Chardonnay in my experience) on a matrix. The control wine is in the column on the left. This wine is created as neutral, as is possible for the tasting. Then, in each row, you this same wine with incremental oak, sugar, acid and tannin. IIRC, there were 4 increments of each aspect.
It was usually difficult to tell the control from level #1 of any, but by level #2 most tasters could definitely pick up the differences. By level #4, your lips puckered on the acid, your lips "buzzed" on the sugar and your tongue definitely grew fur on the tannins. Oak was like licking a freshly cut damp piece of oak lumber!
As a bonus, once we got to blend our Chardonnay with just the right increments of these aspects, and sample each other's efforts.
You might want to contact Beringer (now Beringer-Blass) in Napa. Two of these tastings were done in other states, but were pre-arranged. The distributor's rep hosted these for our club events.
If that is not possilbe, you could work with a really good wine shop to do similar. You don't get the "control" wine, but a bland example should be easy to find. As you'll be dealing with 0.75's, you might want to do this with friends.
Last, do not be alarmed. Many people cannot pick up the differences, until they are so over-the-top, that the wines are almost undrinkable. Same for the flavors and aromas of food. Some people just do not possess the capacity, due to illness, accidents or maybe defects from birth.
This is just my personal experience and I understand yours may differ, but it might at least help give you some perspective. In college when I first started drinking wine, I liked Boone's Farm. If I tried a bottle of real wine, I hated it. I had not developed a wine palate yet.
I think I graduated from that to arbor mist later in college. Still I just drank what I liked at the time. Plus I had the added bonus of only being able to buy dirt cheap wine.
My next wine step up was Ruinite Lambrusco. I know these are baby steps. Again though I was just drinking something I liked and not trying to hard to drink things I didn't like yet. Once I moved out of my parents house I graduated to some box wines. I remember I used to drink something called "Delicious Red", and at the time to me it was.
The whole point of this long list of wines that no one would ever respect is that it took a journey to get my palate to the point that is was even worth my drinking anything better. Once I really got into better wines, I started exploring regions more so than specific grape varieties. Its just what worked for me. One month I would go on a Napa kick, the next month it might be Australia, finally I discovered my favorites. But just try to relax, wine is supposed to make you happy. Have a couple of glasses and get a little buzzy. Enjoy it as best you can. Dont worry about drinking the right bottles. Just find something you like no matter what it is and drink it. Even if it a 2.99 bottle you picked up at the gas station.
Glad to see that you've disengaged for now from tackling " fancy terminology / smells / tastes" and are just enjoying what you enjoy. All that will come.
I had a beer tasting at my home two weekends ago and described a beer as being more "unctuous" than another. I immediately lost everyone so they asked me to explain further and I clarified. That term has specific personal meaning to me but obviously not to everyone else thus making terminology difficult at times.
Doesn't help that beer has a bit of it's own lexicon. I'm guessing what you meant by unctuous is what is typically called having "good body." It's often the result of particular unfermentable sugars, and is the opposite of the the super dry low-carb light beers, which have no mouth-coating thick character what so ever.
I'm going to take back most of what I said upthread. Not because it's wrong, but because, upon further thought, I don't think it's the right advice for you, 914NYC.
What made me change my mind is this:
<There is almost ZERO enjoyment here.>
So, instead I'll recommend this:
Don't force yourself to like wine.
If you do drink wine, find some wines you like.
Find wines that give you pleasure and enjoyment, first and foremost.
Then, if you find a wine you like, then perhaps read some reviews of that wine. Then, when you drink the same wine again, see if you can pick out the same flavors and aromas that are described in the wine reviews. You can find wine reviews online or at cellartracker.com.
If you find you like a certain type of wine -- Riesling, for example, then try other Rieslings and see if you like them too.
But right now, just drink wine for enjoyment.
re: maria lorraine
What a great bunch of replies. What a great board of people here. Thanks for all the perspectives.
Tonight, I am drinking the Oaky Chard and the Dry Acidic Reisling, and I can tell the difference. It is not a "hit you over the head" difference, but it is there. As I descend into the depths of wine SUBTLETY, this will be more "stark"
I'm going to take a slightly different track: don't try to learn about distinguishing characteristics of wine by drinking chardonnay. Seriously. There's a saying that if you cant figure what a grape is through the nose, it's almost always chardonnay.
Aside from that, go to your most trusted retailer, and say, I have so and so to spend, give me the 6 most different wines you can find. Repeat as necessary. And don't worry, it's not easy to distinguish between merlot and cabernet sometimes. On the other hand, put a CA pinot noir next to a raw and just-released barolo, I'm sure you will begin to see the differences.
I have found that people just getting into wine generally have an easier time detecting the differences in white wines than in red wines. White wines also tend to be less generic at lower price points. You also are less likely to get blended wines without knowing it. For example your Merlot probably contained 15% or more of Cabernet Sauvignon, and vice versa for your Cabernet. It is no wonder that they can appear very similar!
Here is what I would do if I were you. It requires 4 glasses, 4 bottles of wine (nothing outrageous though), and a few other things to compare the scents to. Simply pour yourself four glasses. For the four wines I would suggest something like this:
A dry Riesling. You should have no trouble finding one of these either domestic or imported. Some good ones to look for are Chateau Ste Michelle Dry Riesling, Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, Trimbach, and Hugel.
A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Oyster Bay, Monkey Bay, Cloudy Bay, and Kim Crawford are all fairly available and not too expensive.
A Chardonnay. I'd suggest non-oaked from the Macon, but any will do. One that's fairly available is Joseph Drouhin Laforet.
Finally, and Alsatian Gewurztraminer. Wine Library has Barth Rene onsale and it is an absolutely great wine. Trimbach is usually pretty good for the money as well. Most wine stores can point you to something good.
You should also prepare a few things to smell against. For this lineup I'd do the following:
Dried or canned lychees
Cut green apples
Cut bell pepper
Smell the different wines and then try to match them with the smells of the actual products. I almost guarantee that you will find a match in one of the ones for every smell on that list.
That will at least get you started and prove to you that you can do it.
You're asking how do you identify flavors and aromas in wine.
Let's talk about apples, first.
Can you tell tell a difference in taste -- in general -- between green apples like Granny Smith and red apples?
Can you tell a difference in taste between different types of Red Apples -- between Fiji and Rome and Braeburn and Red Delicious, for example? Between Red Delicious and Golden Delicious?
Can you describe why one apple is your favorite over other apples?
Not as easy as you might think, and you've probably grown up with apples.
Even though they're all apples, there are subtleties in aroma and taste between between
different kinds -- in tartness, in sweetness, in flavor.
Wine-tasting is all about subtleties, too. Nothing is going to hit you over the head.
You may have expected to easily be able to identify flavors and aromas, that doing so would be obvious, but it is a skill of tuning into tiny subtle differences. Even if you're aren't genetically gifted, as you say, nearly everybody can get better at detecting those subtleties.
As an example, some wines will demonstrate cherry fruit more than others. Possibly once you can pick out cherry fruit in a wine, then you might be able to pick out a different kind of cherry fruit -- bing cherry, for example.
To help you identify flavors in wine, it helps for you to know food ingredients.
Know the smell and taste of as many fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, fish, shellfish, spices, sauces and condiments — anything -- as you can.
Know the difference in taste and smell between citrus fruit: between lemon, lime, white or ruby grapefruit, tangerine, orange, and Seville orange. The difference between the fruit or juice and its zest.
Know the difference in taste and smell between a strawberry, raspberry, cherry, cranberry and pomegranate.
Once you those tastes and smells in food, you develop a taste and smell library, so you can identifty those same tastes and aromas in wine. The big trick is not only to smell and taste things, but to be able to articulate
what you taste.
To get better at this, it helps to have a guide, and other people around you who can help you detect aromas and flavors. I'd suggest your finding a Flavor and Aroma Identification Class for wine in the NYC area where you are.
Call the places listed in this recent Chowhound thread on wine-tasting classes in NYC, and ask if there's a
Flavor and Aroma Identification class.
Stay open. It will come IF you like wine. But you will have to tune into tiny subtleties.
Good luck to you.
Hey 914 - have you tried doing the UC Davis wine aroma test? You can make it into a party with other friends who are also interested in learning about wine. It takes a bit of set-up (a bunch of glasses with seemingly odd things placed in them) and investment (several bottles of wine), but is well worth the effort. You really walk away with a sense of how to detect variations in the aromas of wine.
Scroll down and click the "download the user guide" link for instructions on how to conduct the test. It's fun, you get to drink a bunch of wine, and it's a great excuse for a party (which is ideal, as you can spread the wine costs among the participants). And with any luck, you'll walk away with at least a beginning idea of how you can identify aromas in wine.
$200! At least you know you are dedicated to finding an answer... :)
OK - well, when you get the wheel, click the link I listed above, gather the materials together, and throw a bash with your friends. When I did it, we did all red wines, and we got 1 of each of the following: Cab Sauv, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Petite Sirah. Get decent ones, too. For the wine you use in the "aroma" glasses, just something innocuous like a Two Buck Chuck is cool. And have fun with it... have a glass of each of the wines - then smell that glass then the first aroma... back to your glass and then the second aroma... back to your glass and then the third aroma... what you'll notice at first is that each wine smells similar to some aromas and nothing like others... as you try to figure out WHY some smell similar and others don't, you are on your way... GOOD LUCK!!!! Go in with an open and optimistic mind, and you'll be rewarded.
Another tip: when we did it for the red wines, we actually expanded the "berry aromas" and had a glasses with strawberries, cherries, blueberries, and raspberries. A bag of mixed frozen fruits will provide this for you economically. And remember, you may be better off initially pointing out what it definitely doesn't smell like, but just understand that this is a process of elimination, and move on from there.
My first reaction is that 914NYC is trying much to hard to prove or disprove the validity of a level of wine appreciating/understanding that it is NOT really necessary for anyone to reach or buy into. I agree with those that are responding that the poster should just find wine you like and let it take you from there..... or not.
Not everyone is able to or even WANTS to get into wine at the level of understanding that you find so difficult. It isn't really necessary although, if you want to try different wines, it helps to be able to put into words the things you like and dislike, so that a server or shop salesperson can help you select a wine you are more likely to enjoy without you having to taste it first.
As someone who spends a great deal of time serving wines by the tasting pour, I see those who love a specific wine and others who dislike the same one. I see people who can't put what they like into words and those who sound like the marketing department of a winery. All it's really about, for me, is that you decide how much you like wine and then find a level at which you can select wines you like.
If you can't taste the difference been a truly oaky chardonnay and one that is un-oaked, you may have a palate that lacks certain sensitivities OR you may be focusing on something else (acidity, perhaps) and missing what oak brings to the flavor. That puts you in the group that buys wine by personal experience only, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Bottom line, though, is that getting all hung up on it is just a waste of time. While you can probably TEACH yourself to discern basic palate elements in wine, FORCING yourself to do so is just not going to work. If you relax about it, and want to explore more, it may come to you more easily. if it doesn't...... just enjoy what you do like.
Fully agree with Icantread. Its the price point, the food and yes, even the glasses. Also bear in mind that most wines nowadays at regular prices are drinking wines that are made according to very broad tastes, ie. nothing special.
I am happy to admit that before I met my wife and her side of the family in Europe, I really had no clue.
I was just lucky when I was in the States in that I knew someone who was kind enough to treat me to his best Californian wines (aged, expensive) to start me in the process. But if you were to ask me honestly if I tasted a difference, I would say that it was marginal at best.
The difference came when I met my in-laws. My brother in-law had been collecting the stuff for 30+ years and has an extremely large cellar with the choicest examples of wines from all over the world, across all imaginable vintages.
His wife is an artist at preparing food. So when the two of them get together to do a dinner (which we would stay awake to 4 AM with), we would drink countless bottles combined in the best ways with food based on their experience over the decades.
Bottom line: It opened my eyes to another universe that I didn't know existed.
Advice: Shock treatment:
Buy a $150 bottle of red Bordeaux from 1989. Put it next to a CA Cabernet that you normally drink. Both wines should be around 12 C (54 F). Don't drink them the same day you buy it. Keep it unshaken for a few days. Buy 2 Schott Zwiesel "Tritan" Cabernet glasses. Do not buy the Riedel ones - you'll just break them and be heartbroken at how much they cost. Pour literally no more than the width of 2 fingers into the glasses. Try the Bordeaux first, and then the cheap stuff. Sip, twirl and sniff. Don't get food into the mix yet. Just enjoy the wine.
I think you will see a difference. The hard part comes next. :)
You have to put serious coin in order to get enjoyment out of it, and the time. Feel free to post your comments, I'll keep a watch for you.
You don't need to spend that kind of money to begin to appreciate wine. That's ridiculous. For $150 you could purchase six or more very nice bottles of wine.
Go to a good wine shop (i.e. Moore Brother in Manhattan) and tell them what you've told us. They will be more than glad to converse with you extensively.
Ok, then try an 1988. Year was not so good as 1989 or 1990, but good nonetheless. When you open the wine, make sure you leave it in your glass for around 30 mins, as it will need to breathe.
But man - you get what you pay for. Think of it as a tuition payment to a new university.
Try Chateau Figeac (St Emilion) 1988. Should be around the $150 price range.
My brother-in-law's advice to how the hell he can amass so much wine knowledge: "Drink more".
Re "shock treatment" - I humbly differ. As one who has never spent $150 on a Bordeaux or any other wine for that matter,* I think you can still get plenty of enjoyment (and education) from wine without ever doing so. Indeed, many who don't drink a lot of wine may very well find off-putting the secondary characteristics that you'll get in such a wine. I suspect the last thing that will make someone a wine-lover would be shelling out $150 for something they didn't like.
*mags don't count.
Frodnesor and Chinon00,
Thanks for your input. I'm sure 914NYC will use all our combined advice and find out what's best for him.
I personally believe in upper, absolute metrics - that its better to spend $150 on 1 excellent bottle (non magnum), to find out that I do not like wine, period, rather than spending the same amount on 6 different bottles which I may or may not like.
In my case, it worked. It may not for the next person that reads it, and thats 100% fine.
Better I *know* for a fact that what many acknowledge to be excellent wine is simply not my thing and move on, case closed, rather than keep on banging my head against the wall. Life's too short for that (RicRios - good quote).
But that's just a personal thing. To each his/her own - we forge our own paths in life.
I fail to see why it is necessary to purchase a relatively expensive wine and from a specific vintage no less to draw a contrast with wine you describe as "the cheap stuff". If your goal is to draw severe contrasts in quality it can be done in less expensive and less specific ways.
I disagree, but we don't need to beat this horse to death. Let 914NYC find his own path.
I've realized over the years that multidimensionality and sophistication in quality cannot be easily replicated without investment.
I used to think different, but that was 15 years and very many bottles ago. I've been lucky.
"I've realized over the years that multidimensionality and sophistication in quality cannot be easily replicated without investment."
Yeah but does the investment have to start at $150 per bottle? And I'm afraid that advice like yours will scare away as many potential wine drinkers as it encourages and increase wine's reputation as elitist.
Wine is not a science (perhaps moreso the making of it, but definitely not the drinking of it). It shouldn't be stressful or feel like work. Matters of taste (with both intended meanings of both "preference" and "flavor") are highly subjective. If you need any evidence, just try reading 2 professional reviews of the same wine. As often as not, you will find few if any specific descriptors that actually match - and these are the "pros."
My suggestion - lay off the experiments for a while, and just try to find a wine or two that you actually enjoy. From your comments, it would seem you don't like highly tannic wines and may have a bit of a sweet tooth. Find a good wine shop, let them know this, ask them to make a few recommendations. If you have the opportunity, open a couple side-by-side and see which you like better; or just keep it simple, open one, and see if you like it at all. Once you find something you like, see if your friendly wine retailer can help you identify what it is you like about it, help you find other wines similar to it, and so on.
Keep in mind as well that there are undoubtedly different degrees of sophistication both in knowledge and in palate. Some folks may just have more sensitive palates than others. But that shouldn't keep you from finding wines that you like.
At what price point are you tasting these wines? Some budget wines can all taste quite similar, especially between merlot and cab. I am more surprised between oaked and unoaked chardonnay, but what are you doing between sips? always taste from lightest to heaviest (in case you are not already) so I would taste the unoaked first and then the oaked.
Did you like any of the wines you tasted? If you did just play with that wine for a while until you start noticing differences in it. Eventually the wine will come alive, but if you are just learning, you're overwhelming your palate. When i first drank beer, whiskey, vodka or rum, they all initially tasted harsh and unpalatable. It takes a while sometimes, and sometimes you must leave it and then come back to it after a break.
You can't simply will yourself to understand and appreciate wine. You can't just sit down and really try hard. It doesn't work that way. The first thing you need to do is to decide if you are willing to buy into it. If you have serious doubts about the whole "wine thing" it's a lost cause. Also, you must completely change your expectations. What makes wine interesting isn't conventional like the nestle quik that you mentioned. You must let all that go and accept that wine tastes like wine and discover what makes it appealing. In other words it requires growth.
As you've stated it takes work and patience and of course money so take your time. We're all still learning everyday. That's sort of the beauty of it.
I had a friend once who told me that she really wanted to like wine, to look cool swirling and sniffing. But she asked "why can't it just taste like fruit punch instead of wine?"
I disagree. This is not a faith based religion.
If there is something REAL about wine differences, then I will notice it. (IF I am geneticallly equipped)
If I have doubts about getting hit by a 2x4 being painful, the REALITY wil make itself damn apparent when it hits me, REGARDLESS of my notions going in.
I think what we're trying to say is that there is something very real indeed about wine differences. I don't think there is any 'if' about it. As a regular (inexpensive) wine drinker, I can tell the differences among different grapes and blends (even if I can't always identify them). And, when I have a good expensive wine, I can usually tell a difference.
Maybe you could share which wines you've tried in your tastings that you discuss in your original post - that might shed some light on the subject.
"If there is something REAL about wine differences, then I will notice it."
I suggest a little hubris. Speaking as one who has made the journey that you wish to take I can tell you that you won't notice many wine differences when you begin. If you can't accept that then you need to give up now. Otherwise you are wasting your time.
Whoa there darlin'....take a deep breath, wine is supposed to be civil, enjoyable not rage inspiring....maybe you are trying too hard. I have been in the wine business for 11 years and I can assure you that there are no smoke and mirrors, (well, some of those back labels are high on the BS scale) but I fully understand your inclination to think there may be if you are having such a hard time picking up on aromatics and flavors.
In the short term I would lay off the books while you are tasting wines, they are a guide and a general suggestion but one must not forget that all palates are different, it is not a users manual....you may be getting more confused by reading what you, "should" be getting from the wine.
Work your sniffer....smell everything, fruit, your spice rack, herbs...really smell them, do you get layers of aromatics from those? If you don't that might be part of the problem as there are a lot of people that just are not as sensitive....you could be one of them.
Try tasting softer wines, (tannin clearly is NOT your thing at this point) Beaujolais, Chenin Blanc...things like that and, (this is very important) visit a wine shop...do tastings there, get to know a retailer, they can work with you, (personally I would see you as a project and I would love to help...would be fun for me...too bad I am in SoCal) if the store you find is snooty or dismissive, find another one!
On the bad pairings front...at this point if you are having a hard time picking out subtle flavors, they may not taste bad to you therefore throwing fuel on your fire that there in nothing to this...not true, at least for all of us.
Final word of advice is to just relax and open your mind, (I fear I may sound like a hippie here) but if you go into it with a negative attitide you are going to have a "bad trip"....
Good luck and seriously get to a good wine store with people that are cool and willing to teach you.
I was not implying that you could not tell the difference between garlic and anise....I was asking if those smells are one dimensional to you.....do they have just one smell or are you able to pick up on more layers of the aromas?
The wine shop might be able to taste with you, (that is what we do) and point out specific aromas or flavors, walk you through it....
I suggested Beaujolais as a softer red, you mentioned that you were not a fan of tannin. Beaujolais is very clean and fresh, low in acid and most don't have a bunch of oak......it was just a suggestion
Do this experiment next...
Taste a wine. Then eat a grape. Taste the wine again. Notice how much more harsh or strong it becomes. Eat some bread to neutalize your palate. Taste the wine again. Suck on a lemon or lime slice. Taste the wine again. Notice how much more soft it appears.
Also, rather than do cab v. merlot try cab v. pinot noir, chardonnay v. sauvignon blanc.