Erin Doman on December 21, 2015 0 Comments A developed palate is generally considered essential for any wine connoisseur. While the biological definition of “palate” is simply the roof of the mouth, the broader cultural meaning is one’s sense of taste, both flavor and aesthetics. When it comes to wine, an advanced palate allows you to realize the complete experience of what you’re drinking. Though, as with all matters of taste, there is a subjective element, your palate can be broadened, allowing you to more fully enjoy a wider range of wine, as well as give you the understanding to discuss and share wines with others. Knowing the fundamental principles of wine tasting and maintaining and training your palate will give you a better appreciation of all wine. The Basics of Tasting Wine: Engaging All Your Senses You probably already have some wines which you prefer over others. Many beginning wine drinkers like simple sweet wines, which have their own charms. However there’s much more to wine than its sugar content, and tasting wine means paying attention to more than its flavor on your tongue. To fully taste wine, don’t just gulp a mouthful. You must slow down to properly savor it, giving yourself time to process all the sensations. Begin with the look of the wine, taking a few seconds to observe its color, opacity, and the wine legs, which collect on the side of the glass as you swirl it. Next, focus on the aroma. When it comes to your palate, the sense of smell is as important as taste. While your tongue detects broad flavor categories such as sweet or bitter, more complex flavors also involve your nose. Close your eyes to concentrate, hold the glass under your nose and take a moment to recognize two or three distinct flavors. If there is a particularly strong scent, try to identify at least one other element accompanying it. The primary aroma of wine is the fruity and flowery notes which come from the grapes, but with practice you can distinguish the secondary aromas of the fermentation, as well as the spicy and oaky tertiary bouquets imparted by aging. Finally, take a sip. Don’t swallow it immediately, but swirl it in your mouth. As with the aroma, try to distinguish different components of the taste. Along with its flavor, notice how it feels. Some wines have particular textures, such as oiliness, or feel different on the sides or back of the tongue. Picking out and thinking of descriptions for the distinct sensations will help you remember them. You may also consider writing down notes to refer to later. Many Types of Tastes A number of different elements make up the taste of a wine. Focusing on and isolating the individual factors by which sommeliers and other wine experts evaluate wine can help you train your own palate. Flavor, along with aroma, is one of the most crucial components. Wines can vary from fruity to floral to more savory. To train your wine tasting nose, put on a blindfold and practice smelling a variety of aromas, from the fruity scents of berries to herbal scents such as lemon zest and sage, to savory aromas like bacon, earth and pencil shavings. A flavor-related element is a wine’s oakiness, derived from being fermented and aged in oak casks. Wheaty and faintly charred scents can signal how a wine was oaked. Tannins are a distinct element of red wines. Coming from compounds in the grape skins and seeds, they add an astringent dryness and slight bitterness that may put off a novice wine taster. Learning to appreciate the complexity tannins bring to a wine’s taste is an important step in advancing your palate. To practice tasting tannins, steep unsweetened black tea and sip it cool. The tannins in tea are very similar to those in wine, and will give you a sense of its effects on your tongue. A wine’s acidity, derived from natural acids in grapes or else imparted by the winemaking process, can make your mouth water, refreshing your palate. A sour taste or stinging sensation can be a sign of an overly acidic wine. On the other end of the tasting scale, sweetness in wine is caused by sugars, usually derived from the grapes in a variety of winemaking processes. Tasting water flavored with lemon, lime and grapefruit juice as well as sugar will train your ability to identify acidity and sweetness. Try adding the juice in small measures until the water tastes distinctly sour, and then add small doses of sugar until the flavors are balanced. The final element of a wine’s taste is its body, referring to the richness and sense of weight and viscosity left in your mouth by the wine. Higher alcohol wines tend to have more body, though other flavors also contribute. The body of wine is analogous to the creaminess of milk with different levels of fat. Try comparing skim milk, whole milk and heavy cream to get accustomed to focusing on the body of a liquid on your tongue. Tending to Your Palate While understanding the constituents of wine can help you notice them, the best way to improve your palate is with practice. Tasting a variety of wines in succession allows you to contrast one with another and exercises your palate in noticing the differences. For such practice, look for a tasting event at a local wine bar or vineyard, or get together a group of friends and open a few bottles. While at a wine tasting, avoid wearing scents such as strong perfume or cologne, which may interfere with your sense of smell as well as your fellow wine-tasters’. Eating certain foods as palate cleansers before you start and between wines can also help the experience, allowing you to “clear” your sense of taste and smell so you can approach each wine fresh. Fresh fruits such as pineapple or banana will renew your palate, while salty and fatty foods like chips or red meat are good at dispelling tannins. A developed palate is about more than identifying a vintage or year; it’s learning to appreciate wine in all its complexity. With some knowledge and practice, you’ll be able to get the most pleasure and enjoyment from every glass.