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"Hmm, I'm not sure what I'm tasting" or How I Learned To Trust My Palate

Updated: Feb 8

When blind tasting, it’s always thrilling and deeply satisfying when you "get the wine right” or at least come close. You’ve put all your knowledge about winemaking, grapes, regions and vintages to the test without any preconceived notions about what’s swirling around in your glass, and you’ve hopefully come to a logical conclusion. It’s fun to impress your friends with your fabulous deductive tasting ability, but is that really the goal of blind tasting? What is really the purpose in all of this wine geekiness? As a sommelier, wine director and educator for almost 30 years, I learned early on that the most important reason to become a good blind taster was to learn to accurately assess the quality level of any given wine at any price point to determine if it’s something I would want to share with guests at my restaurant. I believe a similar approach can be useful for consumers to help them decide which wines are worth buying for immediate drinking pleasure or for long-term cellaring. So, how does a budding wine enthusiast or aspiring collector determine quality level in a certain wine? What makes a wine ‘good?’ Well, there are myriad elements of any wine that must be considered to assess quality: What was the wine-making process? Is the price reflective of that process? Does the wine have any faults like cork taint or oxidation? These are just a few examples of the many, many aspects that some find confusing and intimidating. My suggestion is to start out simply at first by tasting for balance in a wine. What do I mean by balance? Well, when tasting a wine does everything seem harmonious? Do the aromas and flavors mesh seamlessly with the structural elements like acidity, alcohol, earthiness, oak if it’s used, tannins if it’s a red wine. Does the wine linger on the palate and reveal even more flavor? Do all these aspects (and there are so many more than these) work together or does one element seem out of whack – too high or low, not present at all, overpowering or insipid. In general, a well-balanced wine – at any price level – is a sign of quality. One need not be an expert blind taster to determine if a wine is well-made or not. Just relax, enjoy the wine and, most importantly, trust your palate.


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