The idea that improving your palate takes practice is doubly-appealing. First, it means that improvement is possible (great news for those of us born without finely-tuned tastebuds!). Second, it implies that part of the hard work will involve – you guessed it! – tasting, tasting, and more tasting until you get it right. Talk about a labour of love!
If you’re looking for shortcuts, though, there are a few strategies you can employ to improve your ability to pick out and identify key notes and flavours in wine. Try these tricks with future bottles, and see if you can coach your tastebuds into heightened sensitivity…
Think of your sipping as “meditation with wine”! Take it slow, and inhale deeply and calmly as you sip; doing so draws more air into your nasal passages and to your olfactory receptors, meaning you’ll smell and taste more thoroughly.
Include Other Senses
Building your palate isn’t just about developing a keen sense of taste; your senses of sight and smell are also involved! Examine and smell your wine – Is it dark? Light? When you tip the glass, does the wine leave sugary “legs” as it runs back down into the bowl? Can you identify any scents? Picking out visual and olfactory hints can give you insight and help prime your tastebuds.
Breathing deeply is already a first step here, but go further and really pay attention to what you’re tasting. As best you can, try to single-out certain flavours or tastes (or rule them out) and focus on them.
This step will likely be challenging, especially at first, but do your best to identify the flavours you can pick out, and give them a name. At first, you’ll likely begin with broad categories like “fruity,” “smokey” or “woody,” but over time (and with practice) you’ll be able to pick out increasingly specific flavours – like distinguishing between blackberry and cherry, or between citrus and green apple.
Don’t be Afraid to be Weird
Sometimes wine flavours are downright odd! Some experts, for example, have described wine flavours of crayon, pencil lead, wet dog, cotton candy… If that’s what you taste, go with it!
Try New Things
Wine tasting is meant to be fun, after all! Trying new varietals and stepping outside of your comfort zone will expose you to new flavours, and allow you to expand your understanding. Who knows? You might even find some new and unexpected favourites!
Build Your Vocabulary
At first, you may want to use a wine wheel to help you learn some of the words often associated with wine flavours. Using tools like these, and reading about wines will help you build a vocabulary for describing it, which helps you know what you’re looking for. Never knew a Chardonnay could be buttery or that a Riesling could taste of minerals? When you know what to look for, finding flavours becomes much easier.
Remember, these are suggestions – not rules! Have fun with your wine drinking and see if you can challenge yourself to develop a keener sense of taste when it comes to picking our flavours. At the very least, you’ll get t try new wines and learn about yourself – and your preferences – in the process!