Introduction to winetasting

There must be several valid ways of introducing winetasting to newbies, but whenever I hear a potted introduction that essentially merely describes the mechanics of tasting I cringe, quite possibly visibly.  OK, so afterwards the novice knows that they first need to look at the wine, to see how clear it is and appreciate the colour.  Now, I cannot remember the last time I had a cloudy wine in a glass, and I have no idea what a complete novice is meant to do with the information once they have determined what shade of yellow or red it is.  And thus it continues, with them smelling and tasting the wine, usually with increasing degrees of bemusement and consternation, until finally they are allowed to get what remains in the glass down their neck.

What I describe below is an alternative method – let’s call it the winenous method.  It may take a little longer than describing the mechanics, but I am sure it would easily fit into one session of an hour or so using a few different wines as examples. My first step would be to tell people to get the wines in their mouths.  Get them to take a decent sized sample, move it around the mouth, and swallow.   I am sure most novices will appreciate that direct approach rather than fannying around looking at the colour.  Then discuss what they find: the aromas, acidity (or lack of it), sweetness (or lack of it), astringency (or lack of it).  Some guidance will obviously be needed to help them recognise these factors.  Point out that some sensations are flavours detected on the tongue, some are aromas detected in the nose, and some are physical sensations.  Discuss how the different aspects interact, whether they are good or bad, and how they work with food. Then, and only then, get them to smell the wine, so they can see how the nose relates to the aromas they get on the palate, but little else.  They may even at this point learn to derive some pleasure from the nose alone. As for the visual assessment of the wine, I think I would leave it for another day.

If you came to this page looking not for a mini-rant, but actual information about learning to taste wine, I can with no hesitation recommend the book Essential Winetasting by Michael Schuster.  I used it several years ago to learn about winetasting.  I still now occasionally refer to it, and always come away thinking what a good book it is.  Michael has the rare skill of being able to write at an introductory level whilst maintaining accuracy.  Just be aware that, if you intend to do the tasting exercises in the book you might need to ask for advice about which vintages to use as, unless the vintage suggestions have been made more generic in the revised edition, those suggested when the book was written will not be appropriate as you read it.

Author: Steve Slatcher

Wine enthusiast

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