What's the best way to develop my wine palate?
- mollyomormon Oct 20, 2009 12:05 PM
I feel kind of hopeless in this respect. When I taste a nice glass of wine (I know it's nice because the sommelier told me so), it tastes good to me, but it's very difficult for my to pick out the nuances in the way that I can with food or even good beer. So do I take a class? Do I do tasting menus with wine pairings? I assume it's going to require drinking a fair amount of wine and I'm fine with that ;).
I started off as a beer freak.... literally, the more difficult to find, the more I was into it. I started working at a liquor and wine store that sold everything from Gallo to Lafite. Drinking is the only way to truly hone your palate but I would recommend getting a book that covers the basics of wine and all the different varietals and places of origin. Once you start understanding that aspect of wine then all the different nuances have a greater meaning. It is quite fascinating and addicting at the same time. Good luck and enjoy your journey into wine!
I learned a lot by going to the Friday wine tastings at my local wine shop. I am not even an intermediate level wine drinker, but I know a lot more about wine than I used to, and it hasn't cost me more than the price of the occasional bottle of wine I pick up at the tasting.
Taste wine with a group of people that are either somewhat knowledgeable or at least as interested as you are.
Tasting doesn't always mean drinking. One can spit. But it does mean acquiring or purchasing a lot of the stuff.
I refer anyone asking your question to first read The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. Gaiter and Brecher are a couple who explore the world of wine without taking it or themselves too too seriously. They're just fine with using words that are outside of "winespeak" to describe aromas and flavors, and believe that ultimately, the best wine for you is the one *that tastes best to you.*
As you attend tastings, and buy your own product, both by-the-glass at restaurants and by the bottle in the wine store, you'll start to recognize flavors that are among your favorites. Slowly but surely, you'll connect the varietal(s), styles and region that give you the balance of fruit, tannin and acidity that you prefer.
Like the other posters, I encourage you to seek out wine tastings, at stores, restaurants, and at wine events at convention centers. You might want to subscribe to Wine Spectator magazine.
Personally, I tasted and tasted and tasted... and nearly got tired of it! It happened gradually, but noticeably: my palate *knew* kinda what to expect depending upon the type of wine I'd selected. Then, I started to have my wife give me "blind tasting" quizzes to see if I could pick out which wine was which. I was very, very happy when I got wines right in blind tastings at a favorite restaurant.
One of the joys of my career as a gastronome was teaching my wife about wine. When we were dating she was a White Zinfandel gal all the way. Now, she looks forward to visits to our favorite Italian restaurant, which carries a lovely, sophisticated Amarone that she just adores. She knows that when tasting a Bordeaux that's a favorite to look for the taste of chocolate on the finish (even though she can't believe that grapes and yeast are responsible for all of the flavors of a wine)... she can't really tell me *why,* but she can identify the difference between a good wine, great wine (and plunk).
People who would invent their own vocabulary do their readers a disservice. If you wanted to discuss physics with someone, would you make up new words to describe it? Of course not; no one would know what you were talking about.
The language of wine is there for a reason, so that when you say something about a wine, other people know what you mean.
Wine, I consider art. Physics is science. Of course one must use scientific jargon when discussing physics. However, when it comes to wine I'm of the opinion that experts can identify (translate) the non-standard descriptions given by novices pretty well.
You've gotta read Gaiter and Brecher to understand where they're coming from. I mean, they're the voice of wine for the Wall Street Journal.
It's true that the language used in describing wine varies by individual. However, when describing wine to others -- especially to a retailer or sommelier or server or fellow taster -- it helps to know some of the standard vocabulary to effectively communicate and to identify preferences and dislikes. One person's "fruit-forward" is another person's "fruit bomb." It's important to be able to clarify the differences.
As far as Gaiter and Brecher, I'm not a fan. I like their egalitarian approach, but am generally unimpressed with their selections.
And, as mentioned previously, reading about wine only gets you so far. You must taste and taste and taste -- in a spirit of discovery and fun -- with others.
To me, wine is art and wine is science. Wine is of the sky, the earth, the toil in the vineyard and the work in the barrel room. It is a combo of all aspects.
To find the right descriptors, one must go to Plato, Mondavi, to the scientists at UC Davis and then to Faulkner. WIne is about so very many things, that its language is transcendental and encompasses so many aspects of our human forms of communications.
Is that cinnamon that I taste, or nutmeg? Is that the dirt on my grandmother's root-cellar floor, or Rutherford dust? It ain't simple, but it can be universal, depending on one's experiences - hence Faulkner.
It's not that winos want to be obtuse, or oblique, but that it becomes personal after a bit. Relax. Do a retro-nasal and then tell the other guests where you just were transported to. Give me a Viognier & Muscat and I get to travel back to Souther nights in Spring, when the mimosa and the gardinia were in bloom. I am transported many decades to my grandfather's place on a lake with miles of blooming gardinia, sitting under a blooming mimosa tree, watching the sun set over the cypress trees across that lake. Science is transcended, and only personal life experiences can be used. I do not care about phenols, or mercaptins, but only a time and a place.
Check out "The University Wine Course: A Wine Appreciation Text & Self Tutorial" by Marian W. Baldy Ph.D. (Paperback - Nov 1993). I found a copy in my local library.
in addition to the above suggestions, drink as many different glasses as you can while keeping track of which you like and why. bear in mind that a wine consumed on its own, without an accompaniment of food, may well taste completely different once food is introduced. hence, a wine may not have captured your attention might well do so with food. find a good wine shop that offers tastings and then find a salesperson there with whom you are comfortable.
Taste with people who know more than you do. That's it. The harder part is figuring out who knows more than you and who just talks a good game.
It might mean joining a tasting group, but even then it might be a bunch of people who know very little, or it might mean going to visit producers, but even then it's not a given (although the odds are a lot better).
Reading books is ok, but wine is a liquid, not a piece of paper. You can learn about where wine comes from and how it's made and all of that stuff from a book, but if you want to learn about wine you have to taste.
A) Drink lots of different wines, get a general feel for what you like and dislike then focus on a specific grape. Move on to focusing on a specific country, region, etc.
B) Get to know a bartender at a wine bar or any restaurant with an extensive wine list
C) Get to know a seasoned rep at a good wine store
D) Drink some more
E) Have fun, listen to others, but ultimately, your palate/taste is your best and only guide
While I certainly wouldn't consider myself any sort of wine expert, if you have the cash on hand, I can't say enough good things about Eric Asimov's mixed case suggestion: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/11/din...
The gist of the article is to go to a wine shop you trust and have them put together a mixed case of wine, total price in the $250 range (factoring in the usual 10% discount for buying a case at once). Then open the different bottles at your own pace, and surprise yourself with how much and how quickly you learn.
You'll generally get much higher quality, not to mention quantity (which, hedonism aside, is really helpful for the learning process), than you would at a tasting, wine dinner, or class.
I'll add that CellarTracker, another consumer-to-consumer website, has been an immensely helpful complement to both this board and this method. I love tasting a wine, developing my own opinion of it, then reading other user comments online about the same wine.
There are plenty of techniques out there to educate your palate in terms of identifying specific wine characteristics (oak, framboise, wet dog...). The thing I like about the Asimov/CellarTracker method is that it will also help you figure out what you actually like, something that can often get missed when first embarking into the world of wine.
This is not meant to be flip, but my answer is to taste, taste and taste.
Define what you like, and expect things to change a bit, over time. It's OK to listen (read) to others, but in the end, it's about your palate. Do not try to force things, because a sommelier, a spouse or a friend tells you it is what you SHOULD like. It is your palate.
The more that you can taste, the better you will be. Keep an open mind and slowly enjoy every wine. Play with each, and at that point, close your ears to others. Let the wine speak to you. If it does - listen. If it does not, write it down, and go elsewhere - geographically, varietally, or just change winemakers.
It is your palate, and no one else's. Trust what you taste and what you enjoy.
I would do wine tasting themes. For example, do a CA Pinot Noir night. Buy wines that range in price from $15 to $60 and also that your local wine store clerk (or people on this board) tell you are good and also in different styles. Trying a Siduri Pinot Noir back-to-back with a Freeman Pinot Noir will give you an idea of how one grape can produce two very differnt styles of wine.
Sorry, but I had focused on a couple of aspects of your post.
The first thing that I would do would be to pick up a copy of Andrea Immer's (she's now Robinson) "Great Wine Made Simple." Read and taste. You'll get a world-wide experience by the third chapter.
2. Take notes
3. Repeat 1 and 2
Read reviews etc. AFTER you drink the wine and compare your notes. Too many people get caught up in drinking according to score.
Bill Hunt and Tony O offer the best advice.... drink and taste as many wines as you can. Period.
Don't try to find people who "know more than you" about wine to tell you what to drink. Of course, people who are wine collectors, professionals or knowledgable in wine can help make recommendations, but my advice is to rely on your own palate. Remember, your palate is a very, very, very personal and unique thing that only you truly understand. Nobody can tell you what you taste. There can be some basic generalizations for sure, but at the end of the day, you like what you like. And guess what? the more wine you taste, the more your palate will change and develop.
You can do pairings at dinners and that is a good way to see how wines and foods pair. You can buy books about the same, but at the end of the day it all boils down to tasting and tasting.
Also, please remember... tasting and drinking wine is supposed to be FUN. LOTS OF FUN. Don't make it work. Drink wine you like and enjoy it. The more you drink, the more your palate will evolve. It just happens. Let it.
If you really want to analyze wine, then take notes. Think about what you taste in each wine. At the beginning you may not taste every subtle nuance. That will change. You will be able to tell differences in wines. Focus on that and your palate will sharpen. Let your experiences, personal experiences, guide you.
Enjoy the process!