Tasting, tasting, one, two, three..
May 2, 2008
You know that guy in the restaurant that you see with the over-exaggerated sniffs? You can usually hear him over the rest of the restaurant slurping away at his wine just to let you know that his keen and analytical palate is hard at work assessing every nuance of the wine in his glass. What parts of that are really necessary and what parts are all for show? Here are a few things that may help make your wine experience more worth the money.
First off a few words on what makes your tasting of a wine particular to you. I think that there is a certain perception that everyone’s ability to taste lies on a line in which some people are quite numb, some people are very sensitive, and the reset of us lie somewhere in the middle. The reality is a little more complex than that. We taste on more levels than just one and our abilities to taste can be quantified by different parameters.
The first and easiest to examine is the more simple tasting mechanism which is our tongue. Our tongue simply tastes five elements. Salt, sugar, acid, bitterness, and umami or the characteristic of savory, are all that the tongue can recognize and from this aspect one’s ability to taste is quite linear. People who are extremely sensitive in this aspect are usually less tolerant of wines with bitter notes or highly acidic characteristics.
The more difficult aspect to quantify is that of the olfactory sense. While one’s tongue is only capable of recognizing five elements, the olfactory sense is capable of distinguishing thousands. More interestingly, the olfactory senses work more like a muscle in that through practice one can train it to be more discerning. The really great thing about it is you can train yourself to become a better taster on your own. All you have to do is pay attention to your nose. There are also kits that contain many different essential oils that you can buy that offer really great training.
Finally, and most importantly is your personal taste not only in wine but also in diet. One’s taste will inevitably veer toward the wines that best complement one’s way of life. If you eat a lot of red meat, the likelihood is that you will develop a more discerning palate for heavier red wines, which will better complement red meats.
Tasting a wine and really understanding its elements is a goal everyone can achieve if they only pay attention to their own palate instead of the palate of wine critics. Give it a try.
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Zev Rovine is a Park City sommelier. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in New York City. If you have any wine queries or comments, he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .