Let's Talk About Wine

The four ways to think about tasting

–By Bruce Schoenfeld

“An apple-laced nose,” the reviewer writes, “with citrus fruit/yuzu notes plus accents of coriander seed, chalk dust and anise.”

That’s a real tasting note about a wine, published in a well-known publication that’s meant to help consumers decide what to drink. Do those flavor cognates help you decide whether you might like the wine? Didn’t think so. They sure didn’t help me.

Still, it’s hard to describe flavors without comparing them to . . . well, something else. So if we don’t want to talk about wines that way, how should we talk about them?

Here are four ways to consider a wine:

Mouthfeel. Literally, what does the wine feel like in your mouth? Is it drying? Viscous? Cloying? Are the flavors precise, like a beam of light, or diffuse? And what happens after you swallow? In some wines, the taste lingers long after the wine is gone. With other wines, it seems to disappear.

Balance. Imagine an average-sized redhead with freckles, a wart on his nose, a muscular build, and huge feet. To describe the look of that man, you’d need to mention all that. But what if the same man was 7-foot-4? All those characteristics would still exist, but his extreme height would dwarf (literally, in this case) the others. So it is with wine. If it’s overly alcoholic, you’ll notice that almost to the exclusion of everything else. The same is true with too much tannin, acidity or sweetness. If nothing in particular jumps out as a wine’s primary characteristic, that’s a good sign that it’s balanced. (Or that you’ve actually picked up the water glass.)

Typicity. We all have some idea what a Pinot Noir tastes like. So think about whether the one in front of you now tastes like a typical Pinot Noir (sure, you can use some flavor cognates here) and how it’s different. Part of what you’re sensing probably has to do with where that particular Pinot Noir was grown. Or perhaps you like Italian wine. Indeed, wines across Italy do seem to have a certain something in common. Take a moment to consider how similar the next one you drink is to other Italian wines you’ve had, but also aspects that make it dissimilar. It may be because it’s made from a grape variety that didn’t originate in Italy, such as Syrah or Sauvignon Blanc.

Metaphor. There’s another way to consider wine, and that’s through the baroque comparisons that British writers used to use. They’ve recently come back into fashion through comparisons to actresses, movies, times of the day, even different places. (“In a sense,” I once heard someone say, “the 1995 is the Beatles and the 1996 is the Rolling Stones.”)

Those aren’t much more helpful than “accents of coriander seed.” But they’re a lot more fun to read.

–Wine Guardian manufactures wine cellar cooling systems for proper storage & aging of wine.–

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