How to Taste Wine Like the Pros
Written by Melanie Reeve
Out with friends in a bar last Friday evening, I decided to order a glass of Rioja. Chatting with the group, I was met with an astonished expression from my friend Jeanette. ”Are you actually swallowing each mouthful?” she asked incredulously.
In social settings, I’m finding increasingly that people are surprised to see me “drink” a glass of wine – and then feel they need to explain why they are swallowing each sip – as if I expect them to use a spittoon! (At this point I’d like to say to my friends: Please stop apologising for whatever you order/prefer in the beverage line. I love you as my friends and do not mind in the slightest what you choose to drink, or expect you to be interested necessarily in WSET qualifications.)
Equally, when hosting consumer tastings I find that the slurping demonstration can cause confusion. I have been asked on many occasions if a whole glass of wine is meant to be enjoyed that way!
I’m not sure what people think I spend each day actually doing. I recently came across something online – “What my friends/parents/clients/society think I do” (spend each day at Bordeaux vertical tastings, drip-feed myself Puligny-Montrachet) versus “What I think I do” (write incisive commentary for publication on blogs such as this). What do I really do? Spend an inordinate amount of time on Twitter, update the payroll spreadsheet, then later on possibly finish up the bottle of Villa Maria in the fridge. Ask any of my wine colleagues, and I’d wager that I’m not alone.
It must be said that nobody needs professional help to drink wine. There is a world of difference between drinking wine and tasting wine. The action of drinking involves simply relaxing the neck muscles (and possibly not a lot else). In order to taste wine properly, it involves a lot of swirling & sniffing, accompanied by poncy murmuring sounds…
It’s true that the three-step approach to tasting (sight, smell, taste) together with the received “language” of wine can seem far-fetched at times. Is it possible for anyone to learn to “taste” wine? In my view, the answer is yes. I don’t believe a gifted palate is a prerequisite; I think it’s just a case of learning to “interpret” what the wine is telling you, in some cases very clearly, in others, not so apparently, and then capturing those impressions. The skill lies in the ability to spot and assess the features of any given wine and communicate these with eloquence and simplicity.