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Oct 20, 2009 12:05 PM

What's the best way to develop my wine palate?

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 ;).

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  1. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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).

          6 Replies
          1. re: shaogo

            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.

            1. re: crw77

              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.

              1. re: shaogo

                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.

                1. re: shaogo

                  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.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    " the scientists at UC Davis..."

                    Don't forget the artisans in the barrel rooms coming out of CSUF, aka Fresno State.

                    1. re: PolarBear

                      Oh, and there are more. I did not mean to slight anybody, but my fingers grew tired... [Grin]

                      No, there are many, many more.



            2. 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.