I attended a Burgundy dinner the other night, at a private club, where about 60 wine lovers enjoyed two white and three red Burgundies ranging from village to grand cru. All the wines were delicious and showing well.
A few guests asked me how I am able to describe the range of aromas and flavors in wines. One suggested a taster like myself must be genetically predisposed to perceiving the olfactory messages transmitted from the glass.
Perhaps unknown to them, understanding wine and describing its attributes (and sometimes flaws) is within the grasp of most who appreciate its pleasures. It does, however, require a lot of time, tasting, recording notes and experience.
Wine is a complex beverage, containing hundreds of volatile aroma compounds. Though many have been isolated and correlated to certain flavors, not everyone perceives them in the same way.
What many neophyte wine drinkers don’t realize is that taste is a very personal thing. The aromas and flavors of wine trigger sense memories deeply embedded in our brains. I enjoy the scent or flavor of licorice in wines, or maybe I find them enjoyable because I ate a lot of licorice candy as a kid.
One person’s licorice may be another person’s tar or smoke. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you begin to trust your own palate and gain confidence in your abilities to assess the components of wines.
It’s crucial to taste, taste, taste. There’s no substitute for tasting wine. You can read about it and listen to others describe it, but you have to taste wine and listen to what it is saying, that is, be open to the aromas and flavors it has to offer. The better the quality or authenticity of the wine, the more it has to say.
It’s equally important to take notes on your impressions of the wines you taste. I taste roughly 5,000 wines a year; I can’t remember all of them, so I take notes. As one gains experience from tasting, grape varieties, regional identities and vintage characters begin to emerge. They become stored in your sense memory and can be recognized in future tastings.
Finally, trust your palate. In my experience, the first impression of a wine is usually the most accurate. But be open-minded, willing to accept new ideas and incorporate new information into your wine knowledge. Above all, enjoy the process.
John Osgood — New York, NY — April 4, 2008 10:18am ET
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — April 4, 2008 7:25pm ET
Travis G Snyder — Salt Lake City — April 5, 2008 12:25am ET
Brian Wang — Woburn, MA — April 6, 2008 3:05am ET
Sandy Fitzgerald — Centennial, CO — April 7, 2008 7:10pm ET
Jonathan Lawrence — April 8, 2008 8:11am ET
Bernard Kruithof — San Antonio, Texas — April 9, 2008 7:24pm ET
Joe Dekeyser — Waukesha, WI — April 11, 2008 11:22pm ET
Jim May — Los Angeles — April 25, 2008 12:58am ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions