Wine tasting by a geek

I’m a wine geek.  No getting around it.  I love the  fact  that it’s part art and part science, both in the making and the drinking.  Did you know there are over 200 flavor compounds in varietals?  Add food, and things get really interesting!

It’s also a great way to spend a weekend: driving through the mountains with friends, visiting with winemakers, tasting their wares,  finding a new gem.

The one thing I hear from a lot of people I talk to about wine is ‘I don’t know anything about it, so I don’t know if I’m doing it right.’  First  of all, there is no right.  Yes, there’s a whole set of tests and exams to become a wine expert.  But those courses teach you a specific set of terms for specific sets of profiles.  You’re learning industrial jargon of the  sommelier and vinifer.  You don’t need all that.

You can start down the path of wine tasting with a simple question:

Do you like what’s in the glass?

There you go, new hobby started!  Once you’ve decided you like something, you can start figuring out why you liked it.  What did you taste?  Did it remind you of something else?

This is good because means that when you start to identify the things you like about what’s in the glass, you can associate it with the type (the varietal) on the label.  That’s when  things get interesting and you start to compare types of wine from different makers  and different areas.

One thing, I really get annoyed with tasting notes that use comparisons to things most people haven’t ever tasted.  I can’t tell you the last time I had carob, but it certainly sounds fancier than dark chocolate.  And raspberry notes are so ’13, it’s got to be schnozzberry this vintage…


Taste is a highly personal thing, just like all of our sensory interactions with the world.  I don’t make the exact same associations as you do, nor does my nose work exactly the same as yours.  So, I may be picking up on things you don’t pick up on as strongly or at all.  And vice versa.  That’s what makes it interesting!  The folks who squint and purse and “areate” looking for that “typical pearch note that qualifies a good Gruner Veltliner” really annoy me.  Don’t tell me what I’m supposed to taste,  tell me what you think, and let me figure out what I think. Who knows, maybe I’ll never taste what’s on “the list” and maybe I’ll like it for entirely different reasons.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t tell a wine by it’s flavor profile.  Sauvignon Blanc tastes like Sauvingnon Blanc.  Different regions do different things based on the growing conditions and how the wine maker chooses to process the fruit.  So you’ll get some with a herbal grassy quality (I’m looking at you New Zealand, yum).  And you’ll  get some with a more peach/stone fruit quality (That seems to be  a Cali thing).

So the next time you grab a glass of red or white, ask yourself two things:

Do I like it or hate it?

What does this remind me of?

Oh, and if you loved it, ask the varietal so you have a next step down the path.

DO you have any stories or questions about starting to taste more than ‘red’ or ‘white’?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *