How to Taste Wine
I've been drinking and enjoying wine for many years, but I haven't always tasted it.
Tasting doesn't mean composing the longest list of esoteric flavor descriptors in the galaxy. We all know those annoying types who make you feel like an idiot because you can't pick out the "Oaxacan chocolate, dried Nicaraguan tobacco leaf, Pu'er tea, and Sumatran black peppercorn." Sometimes wine just tastes like red wine (though sometimes it does taste like chocolate, tobacco, tea, or pepper).
There's a lot more to wine than flavor profiling. Before attempting to "see, swirl, sniff, and sip," you need to understand how wine is structured by getting to know your taste buds better.
In one of my wine diploma classes, I was referred by an instructor to a book by Michael Schuster called Essential Winetasting: The Complete Practical Winetasting Course. I love this book because it is simply written and it strips wine down to the basics.
It also offers an exercise to help us understand the structure of a wine by discovering where and how acidity, alcohol, and sweetness are perceived on the tongue. These are the basic elements of white wine (add tannins for red), but hardly anyone addresses the fundamentals. Most writers, posing as instructors, skip ahead to help you identify hues, aromas, and flavors but forget about whether the wine is well made and has good bones.
Try the exercise! It seems complex, but it's not. You'll learn how to detect sweetness, acidity and alcohol in wine by tasting sugar-water, lemon-water and vodka-water individually, then in blends (this exercise does not address tannins, just
sip a glass of over-extracted tea to get the gist of that).
Step 1: Prepare the mixes:
Sugar-Water: Mix 3 1/2 heaping teaspoons of superfine sugar with 2 cups of warm water to dissolve. Add 1 1/4 cups cold water to cool. 3 1/4 cups total.
Lemon-Water: Juice of two lemons and 3 1/4 cups water.
Vodka-Water: 6 1/2 ounces vodka with 2 1/2 cups water. Approximately 3 1/4 cups total.
Step 2: Taste sweet, acid, and alcohol individually:
Keep a glass of plain water nearby for sipping.
Sweet: Take a sip of water, then sip of sugar-water, swish around mouth.
Sweetness is registered on the tip of your tongue and near the back of the tongue, near molars, but can also be tasted all throughout.
Acid: Take a sip of lemon-water, swish around mouth. Acid is perceived on the sides of the tongue, causing a mouth-watering affect. Notice how the acid lingers in the mouth -- this helps define the finish and aftertaste of a wine.
Alcohol: Take a sip of water; then sip of vodka-water, swish around mouth; then swallow some or all. Alcohol provides both tastes and texture. First, notice the sweetness generally then bitterness distinctly at the back of the tongue.