How to Develop Your Wine-Tasting Palate

by Rhonda Turner

Mindful wine training is about consistency and exposure.

The more flavors and styles your palate is exposed to, the more sophisticated it becomes.

DIY wine palate training exercises and pre-packaged wine-tasting boxes are available to get you started on your journey.

If you want to develop your palate to taste nuances in your wine, you need to put your mouth into training. And by stretching and challenging your taste buds with new experiences, you can take your wine enjoyment to a new level. 

Mindful wine training is about consistency and exposure. The more flavors and styles your palate is exposed to, the more sophisticated it becomes.

Understanding the Palate

The wine palate combines the senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. But unless you are a supertaster, chances are you have never really considered your palate. Our tongues hold up to 4,000 taste buds in five regions. But that is not the only place we taste. Taste buds sit at the back of your throat and on the epiglottis (that funny little thing at the back of the mouth). There are also taste buds down the throat. Our buds taste sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami (meaty or earthy), cool and hot. 

Developing the Palate

If help is needed, DIY wine palate training exercises and pre-packaged wine-tasting boxes are available to get you started on your journey. 

DIY wine-tasting exercises introduce a novice to their own palate by highlighting tannins (also found in black tea), alcohol and bitter tastes. These exercises also help differentiate between sweet and acidic flavors. Pre-made wine tasting boxes combine lessons on tasting and aromatic flavors such as herbs, flowers and spices.

Related: Food and Wine 101: Red Wine

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Grasping the finer points of wine tasting, like learning a language, takes practice. The key is consistency, whether daily, weekly or monthly.

There are copious amounts of information to keep track of for each wine. And many people keep a wine diary. This practice is beneficial in the beginning stages of palate development. It can also serve as a resource — tickling the memory years later.

When it comes to tasting, the word is savor. Slow down and take your time with each glass. Pay attention to the look, smell, taste, texture and body of the wine. Try to isolate the different flavors. The more time you spend with each component, the stronger the memory you will build.

A Word About Cost

Yes, wine can be expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. When choosing your wine, opt for a good mid-range wine. You want to experience the complexities of wine, which might not always be possible with young or inexpensive bottles. There are many good wines for under $30 a bottle, and if you taste with friends, everyone can pitch in to reduce costs. Wine clubs are also an option for both cost containment and choice.

Finally, the Tastings

Choose wines from the same region or producer for your first few wine tastings. Open the wine and talk about it: no test anxiety, no pressure, just enjoy each glass of wine. 

Overall as you try each new wine, think about the following:

  1. What flavors do you taste?
  2. What distinct tastes do you notice?
  3. How does the wine feel on your tongue?
  4. What taste sensations do you feel after you’ve swallowed?
  5. Does the wine taste light or bold?
  6. Does the wine taste bitter or acidic?
  7. Is the wine dry or sweet?

For your next few tastings, introduce contrasting grapes or styles to your tasting regimen. Try Merlot vs. Pinot Noir, oaked vs. unoaked Chardonnay, or even Margaux vs. Bordeaux. 

Once you have mastered this step, go vertical. Harvests change from year to year and produce very different tastes. Try tasting a particular style of wine from different years.

As your palate expands, you will discover favorites, not-so favorites and even newfound friends. And as your experience grows, so will confidence in your abilities.



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