I know we’ve said many times in previous Green Acres blog posts that the beauty of a wine is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve also recommended in the past, that a little knowledge will go a long way towards you enjoying your wine experience a little more. So, in this post I’d like to give you some techniques on how to train your wine palate.
I’ll also cover some tasting experiments you can try and will finish with a few thoughts on tasting food (with the help from Green Acres Head Chef – Richie). Donal Morris has already written about wine tasting in How to Become a Pro in the Wonderful World of Wine Tasting and Home Wine Tasting so I won’t go back over that ground. I want to concentrate on some actual training techniques that you can try at home and enjoy doing it.
Now I’m sure that when you think of wine tasting it projects an image of lots of hours and loads of bottles, tasting notes, and weird descriptions. Well, it is – for the professionals. For them it’s about pace, consistency, knowledge and dedication. For the casual drinker, in my mind the only pre-requisite is a healthy desire to enjoy drinking wine.
Before I give you my technique, I want to point out three things about training your wine palate. One, you don’t have to try and memorise every bottle you’ve drank and its taste effect. It’s more that you use the chance to recognise the flavours. Two, as previously suggested in Have You Made Your New Year Wine Resolutions, write down a region from which you are going to taste a bottle from, each month, and bring your taste buds on a trip around the world. Three, my final piece of advice which I will give suggestions for later is, compare and contrast as much as you can.
There is No Right or Wrong Way to Taste Wine
If you are a regular reader of these blog posts, you will know that I am constantly stressing that the main decision about the wine your drinking is whether you like it or not. After all it’s your palate, your experience and probably your money. That being said, there is a formal way to taste wine that will reveal more about the wine in your glass. As mentioned, Donal’s post is well worth a read in that regard. Anyway, just remember the ‘S’s – See, Swirl, Smell, Sip and Swallow.
Technique to Train Your Wine Palate
I suggest that you host a wine tasting party! I will explain why and how so that it will appeal to even those friends you have that proclaim that they cannot taste wine well. This is what you’ll need to set up for your home tasting.
- 1 bottle of dry red wine
- 1 tsp unflavoured vodka
- 1 tsp of sugar
- ½ a lemon squeezed
- 1 regular tea bag (not a speciality tea)
- 4 wine glasses + 1 for each taster
- 1 notepad and pen
To set up the tasting session: pour 3 oz of the red wine into each of the four wine glasses. Then add the sugar to one of them (stir to blend into the wine), the tea bag to another (take out after about 10 mins), squeeze the lemon juice into another and pour the vodka to the last glass.
Fill each taster’s glass with a reg pour of wine which will act as the control glass. What we’re going to do is help each taster identify their own sense of primary tastes in red wine. These are sweetness, tannin, acid and alcohol. This exercise is not about smelling aromas – it’s about identifying how the said tastes present themselves on different palates.
First, everybody takes a taste of their control wine and swishes it around their mouth. They should feel the taste of it on their tongue and swallow or spit it out. Then they each take a small sip of one of the tasting glasses without smelling it. They write down what they think the difference is between the tasting glass and their control glass.There is No Right or Wrong Way to Taste Wine but you can train your wine palate with this simple technique, at home. #greenacresirl #discoverwine Click To Tweet
Here are some guidelines about each taste that they might experience:
– Sweetness: In small amounts sugar won’t taste sweet in wine but will increase the ‘fruitiness’ of the wine and leave an oily aftertaste. They might taste the most sweetness on the tip of their tongue.
– Tannin: This should taste bitter or astringent (probably more bitter in this experiment). The bitterness is from the teabag and the tannin in the tea might leave a drying sensation on their tongue.
– Acidity: They might notice 3 things. The acid might make their mouth water or salivate. It should bring out the control wine’s bitterness a little more and it will make their control wine feel a lot bolder (try to ignore the actual taste of lemon – it is the acid we’re using here).
– Alcohol: They should pay attention to the sensation of the liquid on their tongue and the back of their throat when they swallow. For some it will make the wine seem spicier and bolder (thicker) on their palate.
And that’s it. Try it – it works and can be a bit of a laugh as well. Thereafter every bottle of wine you taste you should be trying to identify each of the four tastes and how they express themselves.
9 Good Wine Flight Ideas
This could be another idea for a wine party at home! By the way, Green Acres can provide you with all the wine and other items you need for these parties (cheap plug). First, I should explain what I mean by wine flights. The old school definition of “flight” is a collection or grouping of similar objects such as a flight of birds etc. Wine flights generally represent a grouping of wines that share some characteristics, hence a collection of wine tastings that is more than two in number is called a flight.
Wine flights are an excellent way to practise your wine tasting. Like most things, tasting wines side by side offers a contrast or comparability that can help train your wine palate. So, back to the party idea – get some friends over and try some of these wine flight ideas which hopefully will train your wine palate and expand your wine horizons.
- Old World vs New World
- Unoaked vs Oaked Chardonnay
- Pinot Noir Wine Flight
- Sauvignon Blanc Wine Flight
- Bordeaux Blends from around the World
- Syrah (France) vs Shiraz (Australia)
- Champagne vs Prosecco
- Different ages of Port
- Merlot vs Cabernet Sauvignon
Improving Your Taste Buds Will Also Improve Your Enjoyment of Food
For our taste buds, food is no different to wine. It’s all about the flavours. Whilst I have no doubt that some people have better trained palates than others – there are ways to improve same. The basic tastes – we alluded to above are sweet, salty, sour and bitter. I omitted the fifth taste i.e. umami in our experiment above for obvious reasons. It is what’s known as savoury. Foods like mushrooms, meat and cheese, for instance.
Similarly to tasting wines, when foods are combined, you might get a bit of everything. It really helps the experience if you can identify the different flavours. Here are my (and Richie’s) suggestions for learning to appreciate each different taste for what they are.
- Expand your palate by trying new foods (make simple substitutes).
- Think while you eat and concentrate to determine the flavours (same as wine)
- Don’t be afraid to try exotic foods. Smelly cheeses, new meats, weird vegetables.
- Try to cleanse your palate between courses (citrus, bread, water, sorbets etc.).
- No point in trying this if you have a cold because your sense of smell goes.
- Try cutting back on sugar or at least be aware of it on your palate (and waistline).
Be it wine or/and food it will really improve your experience if you can identify different tastes in your mouth. Learning how to train your palate is often as simple as paying attention to what you drink or eat and how external elements can affect your overall experience.
One last thing – did you know that we launched the Green Acres mobile app recently? Now you can bring us home in your pocket. Book tables, browse wines, learn of special offers, check events, connect with us, earn loyalty rewards and much more. We would really appreciate if you would click on either of the tabs below to download for free.
Talk to you soon – Cheers, James.