While I haven’t yet offered up my interpretation of how to taste wine for evaluation I feel compelled to skip ahead to the connection between aroma and taste when it comes to enjoying your wine. There are things we all learn growing up that we tuck away in the file cabinet of our mind and know without awareness. I always see this at my tasting events when it come to aroma. Growing up I’m sure we can all recall learning that we have only four taste buds (which is actually five, umami, a Japanese word for savory being the 5th), sweet, sour, salt, and bitter. If this is the case how then are we able to taste all those flavors we know and love…or hate? Our sense of smell is so connected to how we taste that it fully accounts for over 85% of what we taste. It is the whole reason we swirl to open up a wine’s bouquet in a tulip-shaped wineglass and stick our nose right in the glass and take in air with that sip of wine. Technically we taste with our tongue and we get our flavor from our nose. Our nasal passages are open to the back of our throat and the air we take in with the liquid causes odors to drift up toward the olfacory bulb (aroma receptor) at the back of our nasal cavity and that intake of air enables us to distinguish between different aromas that come from a particular wine. I illustrate this nose mouth connection in my tastings by passing out jellybeans and asking everyone to hold their nose while they place the jellybean in their mouths. They can chew but not swallow. Most can taste the sweet, though some can’t taste anything at all. Then I tell them to let go of their noses and suddenly the jellybean comes alive with flavor. The same thing happens when you have a cold or allergy with a stuffy nose. You can’t taste the flavors in your food. So just to make a technical distinction between aroma and bouquet, aroma helps us distinguish the flavors that come from the grape, where bouquet more specifically refers to the winemaker’s influence and the sugar, acid, oak, and other compounds that affect the grape, but this distinction is merely splitting hairs and the two terms are used interchangeably.
A professor at University of California at Davis, the United States’ foremost authority on all aspects of wine, Ann C Noble, invented one of the best tools available to help you with your wine language – the Wine Aroma Wheel. The wheel has concentric circles describing wine aromas from broader to more definitive terms as you move from the inside of the wheel towards the outside. A wine is first described as either floral, fruity, chemical, or microbiological. Then it is narrowed down for example, if fruity, then is it berry, tree fruits, or tropical fruits? The tool provides an excellent guide to a beginner, helping to direct focus to the most accurate description of whatever wine you are tasting. If you would like to purchase your own wine aroma wheel click here. If you want to become even more adept at learning to pick out specific aromas in wine there is a nifty kit, though not for the frugal, Le Nez du Vin provides practical examples of aromas in a master kit.
Not that I have to say this but you should be diving right in and taking every opportunity to try different wines. How else are you ever going to find your future favorite? A glass of wine next to you for demonstration purposes while you are learning anything about wine is very helpful, not to mention tasty. Cheers!