There’s a lot of mystique to wine tasting. Amateurs are generally split into those who are confident tasters, and can pick out delicate scents in every glass they drink. The kinds of tasters who can pick out anything from fruit to pepper.
And then there are people who really love wine but can’t taste any of these subtle flavours. Can you learn to taste wines in this way, or is it something you’re born with?
Learn to describe what you taste
According to amateur turned expert sommelier Bianca Bosker, and author of the book ‘Cork Dork’, honing a sense of taste and flavour is definitely worth doing.
She warns specifically against settling for other people’s descriptions and opinions on wine, instead of deciding ourselves. She also argues that developing this independence of thought when it comes to wine can extend to everything from art to reading. It’s about having confidence in your own opinions, but also being able to talk about why you have those opinions.
Tannin is the key
Tasting wine is a lot to do with being able to describe how you can taste the tannin, which is the natural chemical found in grape seeds, skins and stems. Tannin is astringent, and gives that peculiar ‘dry’ feeling on your tongue when you sip wine.
Red wines are generally higher in tannin, as the red colour comes from being exposed to grape skins. Bosker advises that tannin is a texture rather than a taste, and also thinks that people struggle to define the taste of wine because they struggle to find the words.
Like learning a language
New reports from scientists are showing that humans are actually superior to lots of animals in identifying smells. It was once thought that we’d lost the ability to tell different smells, but it turns out some people are better than dogs at identifying low concentrations of smells.
So it could be that, rather than being bad smellers, we’re just bad at finding the words to describe what we’re smelling (and therefore tasting). Gaining expertise in wine tasting is like learning a language, according to Bosker.
If you want to be able to blind taste wine well enough to become certified, then you need to have the confidence and understanding of your own sense of taste of smell. You have to be able to confidently state what you’re tasting, without worrying whether it’s ‘correct’ or what other people would taste. And in that way, learning how to taste wine could be linked with learning how to trust yourself.