Why Serious Eaters Should Be Serious Wine Tasters
On Fridays, Deb Harkness of Good Wine Under $20 drops by with Serious Grape. This week, why serious eaters have the skills to become serious drinkers.
Wine tasting notes are funny things. Some people read them and wonder if the folks writing them have lost their minds.
Elderflowers? Acacia? Litchi? Gooseberries? Leather? Can anybody really taste those flavors in wine?
The answer is yes.
But you have to be able to identify the flavors and aromas outside the bottle before you can taste them in your next Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc. That's why Serious Eaters are more likely to be serious wine tasters than folks who dine on nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and Rice Krispies.
Ann C. Noble, the UC Davis professor who came up with the Wine Aroma Wheel, contends that most of us have extraordinary taste abilities. What we lack is the ability to link what we taste with a specific word. When someone like me tries to tell you about a wine, we have to make analogies between the flavors in the glass and other easily identifiable smells and tastes that you might be familiar with in another context.
But I find there's more to it than that.
It's really hard to taste bell pepper in a Cabernet Sauvignon unless you've tasted a bell pepper. Ditto for the more exotic terms wine critics and writers of tasting notes use. I once had someone tell me that it was nonsense that I thought a white wine tasted of gooseberries. "Have you ever tasted a gooseberry?" I asked, referring to the super tangy fruit that is quite popular in Europe, but less so in the U.S. "No," came the response. I suggested that tasting a gooseberry might be a good first step before dismissing the analogy as crazy!
This may be bad news for most people, but for Serious Eaters? If you're reading this blog you probably have a wide-ranging interest in food, and are willing to try new tastes. Your interest in food will only increase your pleasure in wine. If I, or some other wine writer, suggests you might taste soy sauce when you sip a wine, the chances are excellent you will have had soy sauce—and as soon as I mention it, you will be able to identify that savory, umami-like sensation in your mouth. This creates a link between flavor and word, and once those links are made, you'll find that wine tasting notes make a lot more sense.
Have you ever been tempted to shout "Eureka!" when you've read about a wine and tasted exactly what the writer described in your glass? Or are you one of those folks who just can't get a grip on the raspberry flavors in a glass of Pinot Noir to save your life? Feel free to share real life experiences.