Learning to Taste
Everyone knows how to taste, right? It is one of the five senses that we are born with, so it stands to reason that there is not much to be learned. While it is true that tasting is something that we do naturally, it is also true that it is something that we can learn to do better.
While wine can certainly be enjoyed without honing the ability to taste, enjoyment does increase with education and practice. So, how does one learn to taste, particularly wine?
Reading and studying are a good way to start. There are many great books written about wine, but there are a few that really stand out as fantastic resources for increasing knowledge regardless of the reader’s level.
One book that would have to be any list of books to learn about wine from would be Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 2008. This book has so much essential information and wonderful illustrations that if you only can have one wine book in your library, this should be it.
Wine: An Introduction is another excellent book that covers all of the fundamental information a wine lover should have at hand. This book has great facts about grapes, wines, pairings and also has excellent photos.
Knowing the wine regions of the world is quite important to enjoying wine, not to mention discussing and purchasing it. I don’t believe that there is any better reference book covering the subject than The World Atlas of Wine. The photos alone are worth the price, but the maps, labels and insight make this a must have.
Yeah, I know, you are reading this and thinking, “Yo Foolio, readin’ ain’t tasting!” Right you are. Reading will give you a nice basis for tasting but the real knowledge is in the glass. The appearance, aromas, and flavors can be described on the page, but can only truly be experienced drinking wine. Isn’t education a wonderful thing?
As you experience more wines it will become easier to distinguish not just the characteristics of the various grapes, but also the individual aromas and flavors that make up the wine. This is true of both single varietals as well as blends, however I do recommend trying single varietals when the chance presents itself. They allow you to get a sense of the grape, its personality, without being tempered in any way the characteristics of another grape. Blending is done many times, not just to enhance a wine, but often to smooth out rough edges or strong flavors of a grape.
Making tasting notes is a great way to enhance your ability to discern flavors and aromas. Even if you never refer back to them, just the act of taking the notes forced you to concentrate on, and pick out all of the notes that you can. Writing them down helps commit them to memory.
One of my favorite ways to gain more knowledge is to attend wine tastings. While some can get quite pricey, many others are unbelievably reasonable. I have tasted fantastic wines at tastings for as low $10, $5 and even for free. Try and get on as many distribution lists that are wine related, including local shop mailing, and you will find all sorts of tasting opportunities.
While some might argue that all of this is too much work just to enjoy a glass of wine, I couldn’t disagree more. First of all, if you find drinking wine to be work, then you must have one hell of a great job. Secondly, without a little education it is impossible to fully enjoy or appreciate wine. Considering how much wine can cost, I prefer to get every bit of enjoyment out of every drop that I can.
Coming soon: A review of a very nice tasting a friend put on last night. For now, I am off to study.