How To: Have More Fun Tasting Wine

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

I used to mentally roll my eyes into my forehead when I heard people talk about what they tasted in a glass of wine: wet rock, black cherry, tobacco, candied lemon peel, “jammy, red fruits”, oak, leather, clay, EARTH. It all seemed so contrived, RIDICULOUS, but I’d smile across the table with a slightly purple stained upper lip and nod—all the while silently thinking, “OooOKay. Tastes like wine to me.”

Despite what most wine guides would lead you to believe: there’s actually no definitive list of What Wine Tastes Like. That list doesn’t exist. We taste what we know. Sometimes when I taste a wine it brings back a specific memory from a transformative trip, other times it’s a flashback to my childhood. It doesn’t have to be all tannin, acidity, and finish.

 The fact is that common tasting notes, like those of our thirsty friend at the table, just don’t translate the same way for everyone. We haven’t all eaten the same foods or smelled the same smells or met the same well-spoken sommeliers who had a vast vocabulary of attractive and repeatable wine descriptors. And ultimately it’s not about what you’re supposed to taste. It’s about what you actually taste. It’s your experience.

So, backtracking a bit, what’s tasting wine other than tossing that third pour back at the quaint coastal winery? It’s a process consisting of two parts: what you smell in the wine and the actual taste once it’s in your mouth. Perhaps for you wine tasting is the ritual of identifying the primary, secondary and tertiary aromas of the contents of your glass. Perhaps not. Actively tasting wine is different for all of us. While I definitely now lean towards being one of those friends who swirls and sips at happy hour, my spouting off of tasting notes has been known to contain phrases such as:

  • It’s like licking the outside of a peanut shell served table side at a roadhouse.
  • Slightly old Bubbilicious gum from my grandma’s purse.
  • Clementines and honeydews.
  • Bruschetta on a patio in Italy in the summer.
  • Sweet, buttery, breadiness of just-heated King Hawaiian Rolls.
  • The aftertaste of watermelon fruit-by-the-foot (if you know you know).
  • Steak juice.
  • Flat coke that’s been sitting in the sun with a spicy candy in it (Fine. This was Fernet.)
  • Dried apricots.
  • Olive Tapenade.
  • Maple.
  • Green strawberries.
  • Biting into a peach fresh off a roadside truck.
  • Running through a forest in the autumn.
  • Strawberry soda like they served at Elementary school Honor Roll parties.
  • Eating a tart lemon bar at the peak of an alpine hike.
  • Like popping a snap pea in half.
At 27, it’s safe to say that the majority of my life hasn’t been spent eating sophisticated meals, so my points of reference for taste and flavor come from a place a bit different than those in the upper echelon of the Wine Community. I take pride in my southern upbringing and my relationship with food. I’ve got strong opinions about biscuits, country ham, and red eye gravy.  I appreciate the well-known undertones called out by wine professionals, but I also firmly believe wine should be approachable to everyone—not just those who’ve had every Cru, can define which bank their grapes were grown on, and who base their worth on the list of vintages in their cellar.

While my palate is influenced by a smattering of fine dining experiences, flavors of international dishes, spices, herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and wines I’ve had in the past, it’s also one of a girl raised in Little Rock, Arkansas who’s favorite foods were deconstructed Burger King cheeseburgers, reheated mozzarella cheese sticks from a store like Costco, and fresh-out-the-microwave meatball and mozzarella hot pockets.

The plastic champagne flutes of my youth might’ve been filled with the juice from a cold red SqueezeIt, that too sweet purple drink that came in a plastic container resembling a barrel, or that barely citrus-flavored fizzy drink my mom kept in the fridge called Diet Splice (during that phase where we were trying to get off Diet Coke). We ate thawed out enchilada TV dinners on the patio paired with pitchers of tea tinged with the taste of Sweet N Low, and our favorite meals out were at places like Macaroni Grill, Red Lobster, and Catfish City.

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s where I come from and I love it.


Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re drinking and tasting wine to experience it a little differently:
  1. First and foremost: not all white wines taste the same, not all reds taste the same. Nor rosés. Nor orange wines. Nor bubbles. Break down the barriers you’ve built for yourself and EXPLORE.
  2. Be creative. Think about what you’re drinking. Write it down. Who cares how weird or irreverent it is? Use your ~ imagination ~
  3. If you want to taste more, TASTE more. Go to wine bars, go to wine tastings, go to wineries. And don’t just try wine, try new foods and flavors that you’re unfamiliar with. Smell the salty air more fully when you’re at the beach.  Take in nature when you’re on a hike. Expand your points of reference at any given opportunity.
  4. Next time you’re sharing wine with your friends go around the table and see what kinds of tasting notes ya’ll come up with. Me and four friends did this on my 27th birthday and it was a real hoot (then again, maybe that’s because we tasted almost the whole wine list at Bottle House).
Oh, and if you’re three weeks out from taking that Somm test…just disregard everything you read.
Cheers,
L

4 thoughts on “How To: Have More Fun Tasting Wine

  1. Great post, I always enjoy reading people’s personal experiences with wine, not just reviewing bottles. I have had so many arguments/discussions with professional wine tasters over the years about taste “ if I eat a banana…… it tastes like ….. a banana! I don’t need lots of other descriptors. Tasters in China relate more to tannin types and levels, not fruits, because they grow up as tea drinkers. Did you know wine taste is more about smell, not taste, especially something called retronasal smell which occurs just after we have swallowed? I reviewed a book about it on my own blog here https://thetwodoctors.wordpress.com/2017/09/11/wine-lovers-masterclass-from-a-neuroscientist/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s