How do you identify flavors in wine?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have been learning to taste wine better. When I sip the wine and move it around inside my mouth and make funny noises, I can analyze the structural components, but I find it hard to identify the flavors. How can I get better at that part?

—Mr. Vo, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Dear Mr. Vo,

You made me giggle at making "funny noises” because I know exactly what you mean. Some wine lovers aerate the wine in their mouth by sucking in air and creating a bit of a slurp. I do this myself sometimes. It's a good way to circulate the wine around your palate and retronasal passages, which is important because smell and taste are very closely linked.

But that slurp isn’t necessary. A wine’s favors will ricochet around your retronasal passage no matter what kind of noises you do or don't make, and whether or not you swallow the wine.

As far as better identifying flavors, that takes time and experience. If nothing pops in your head immediately, you can run through a checklist. I usually start with fruit flavors. Some wines might just remind you of “citrus” or “lemon,” and that’s a good start. But see if you can be more specific. Is it lemon curd, lemon zest, lemon sherbet, candied lemon peel, pith, lemongrass or lemon verbena? Are the flavors fresh, dried or cooked? Beyond fruit flavors, run through an herb, earth, spice and floral checklist.

Reading other folks' tasting notes will help you develop your vocabulary. Taking notes will help you develop your own voice, and your memory. Good luck!

—Dr. Vinny

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