5 Tips to Improve Your Wine Tasting Ability
1. Have a “Wine Adventure Budget”
The best way to learn nothing about wine is to continue to drink what you already know you like. Yet many people drink the same wines (or the same varietals) over and over again. That’s like eating chicken and carrots every day for years. You can’t learn very much by having such a limited exposure to flavor. There are over 5,000 varieties of grapes in the world—waiting for you to experience the wines made from them. So set aside some of the money you would spend on wine anyway, and each week, drink something that’s entirely new to you.
2. Drink More Than One Wine at a Time
If you were a child trying to understand the color red, but all you ever saw was red alone, it would not be easy. On the other hand, if someone showed you red and blue at the same time, you’d “get” what makes red red. One of the big advantages wine professionals have over consumers is that pros often get to taste and compare several wines at a time. So to learn about wine more quickly, try opening two wines at a time and comparing them. (You can then store them both—even reds—in the fridge so they last you for a few days; just take the red out of the fridge 20 minutes or so before you want to enjoy it again).
3. Don’t Swallow Quickly
Kids taking a medicine swallow it quickly so they don’t have to taste it. Indeed, swallowing wine quickly pretty much guarantees you won’t taste it—or understand anything about it. To get the most out of wine, you have to hold it on your palate for three to four seconds so that every taste—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory—register.
4. Write Down Your Impressions
If you don’t tell yourself something about a wine, you will have no way to remember it. People who don’t say (even to themselves) what the wine tastes like or write down their impressions often go for years tasting wine, but never really understanding anything about it. Don’t worry about what you say. This wine smells like grandma in church is fine. Just articulate something so that you can begin to build a “taste memory.”
5. Taste Wine with Other People
You can practice tennis against a backboard, but it’s a lot better to practice by playing with someone else. Tasting wine with others helps improve your tasting skills because someone else will always have an impression or get a flavor that you did not. We all have strengths and weaknesses in wine tasting (which is why most wineries have more than one winemaker), so tasting with others will open your mind to possibilities you could not have experienced on your own. Plus, hey, drinking wine with someone else? That’s not exactly a chore…
Karen MacNeil is the author of The Wine Bible and the editor of the fast weekly chronicle WineSpeed and a contributing editor to Vivino.