Learning how to taste wine is easier than you think.
Three months ago
Cellar door wine tasting person: “This one has notes of vanilla, red fruits and blackberry jam…”
Me: *Nods, smiling in tipsy, self-conscious agreement and hastily drinks up.*“Mmm. Good. Me love wine!”
One hour into wine tasting class with Anja Lewis from Canny Grapes (aka Champagne Goddess):
Me: “Why does this wine smell salty?”
Champagne Goddess: “…Like the sea?”
Me: “Yes! Like the sea! OMG! You said cool maritime climate! Is that what I’m smelling? The sea from near where the grapes are grown?”
Champagne Goddess: “Yes, well done!”
It seems wine tasting doesn’t have to be all wanky and mysterious. Before I attended Anja’s class, wine had always smelled like delicious wine to me. But in just a couple of hours, Anja showed us a few simple things you can do to really explore and learn about what you’re drinking. (And then I practiced A LOT and added a couple of things).
1. Practice. A LOT.
Responsibly, of course. Next!
2. Use your brain
One of the first things Anja said that stuck in my head was around the difference between drinking and tasting. Most of the time, we’re drinking with our friends, having a good time, we know something tastes good but we aren’t really engaging with it.
When we taste, we are paying attention to the wine. Drinking mindfully, if you will. Practice this and you will start to develop connections in multiple areas of your brain.
(More on this in another blog, but did you know wine tasting can work your brain more than maths? No shit, it’s neuroscience:
Cement those new connections by reflecting on what you find – talk to your friends about it, or write it down.
3. Use all of your senses
This is really part of using your brain, but let’s break it down a little.
Look – at the colours, opacity and viscosity; the size of the bubbles if it has any.
Listen – this mainly applies to sparkling wines, but did you know they all make different sounds? As Anja says, each wine has a story to tell if you only stop and listen.
Pro tip: They all say “Drink me.” Keep listening.
Smell – what does it remind you of? Taste is 80% smell, and we all know smell is the most nostalgic of the senses. Sometimes we may not be able to pick the specific notes in a wine, but it reminds us of a certain time or place. (Hopefully those grassy notes in your SSB are more “lazy summer afternoons in Grandma’s garden” and less “waking up under the neighbour’s hedge when the sprinklers come on”).
Taste – different areas of your mouth are responsible for different aspects of taste: salty, sour, sweet or bitter. So use your whole mouth to taste your wine! Swish it around like you’re rinsing your mouth after brushing your teeth.
Take note of what happens after you swallow. The aromas may change as they hit you from the back of your nose and also, how long can you still taste it after it’s gone? That’s what the pros call the “finish.”
Touch – no need to stick your fingers in, our tongues are great at detecting texture. Does it feel like full-cream milk, or water? Are you getting a “left the tea bag in my tea too long” mouth dryness type vibe? Those are the tannins.
4. Taste different wines side by side.
My fave – yes I’m giving you permission to drink (taste) two (or more) glasses at once! All in the name of education! (I don’t need to keep saying responsibly, do I?).
It’s funny how something can go from smelling or tasting like “just wine,” to something completely different when you have something else to compare it to.
You might also like to try tasting your wine alongside different types of food, and seeing how it changes.
5. Give it time
If you’ve never tasted something before, your brain hasn’t formed those connections and so might not know “where to put it” straight away. So if you don’t like a wine right now, it doesn’t mean that you won’t in the future. I know there are a few red wine drinkers out there (who may or may not have smashed the Fruity Lexia in their uni days) who can attest to this!
6. Consult a professional
Wine tasting is a craft that takes years of study and practice to hone. Why not fast-track your learning by hanging out with someone who’s done the hard yards?
Sitting down with a group of friends to drink great wine and learn about it from someone knowledgeable, passionate and fun is my idea of heaven. If you’re in Perth, definitely book a class with Canny Grapes (do it with plenty of notice though, Anja’s classes sell out quickly!) but otherwise keep your eyes open for local classes and events in your area. Once you start looking there are loads of different things you can get involved in. So much fun to be had!
Learn more about wine tasting
Wine Folly is an excellent resource for learning all about wine, and this link in particular is great for beginners to learn how to taste.