On sense and nonsense in winespeak
For probably as much as half of my wine drinking years, and there have been a few, wine tasting to me felt like some sort of a school test. Something I had to pass, in order to be allowed in. Something, therefore, at which I could fail. Whenever I'd take a sip and someone would ask me: "What do you think?", in my head that question would instantaneously transform into: "It's time boys and girls, hand in your test forms".
All attempts to either describe the exact scientific nature of a wine, or -at the other end- to bring across some divine passion, go straight passed me. And while I now admit that a lot of those terms actually make sense -the wine lingo is reasonably straightforward- they are still often either too specific or too mystical for your and my purpose: To describe why we like a particular wine, so that next time we buy or choose a wine without tasting, we make the right choices for the right reasons.
The key for us is to focus on aroma categories that we know we are sensitive to and ignore those we 'don't have a nose for' (yet). Then try to capture that category at a level that is more or less right for you. Take for instance Fruit. You might want to distinguish between wines that are fruity and those that are not and leave it at that. Or you may find that you prefer red fruits (fresher, higher acidity) over dark fruits (bitter-sweet and earthy). With regards to fruits, this is usually as far as I go. But many take it a step further and have a liking for individual fruits (e.g. red cherry, strawberry, raspberry, etc.). Some don't even stop there and include the state of the fruit (ripeness, cooked, baked, candied, etc).
If you need help with choosing categories you may or may not be sensitive to; search the web for aroma wheels. Very helpful. There are many, most of them freely available, but I like this one from Aromaster.
What I do next is I draw a radar diagram with 'my' categories on it and use it to visualize my preferences. Graphics help me remember. I have separate ones for red and white wines. Let's take an example:
I have in front of me a 2013 Côtes du Rhône. It's a blend of Grenache and Syrah. First I take a few notes of what I see: a light ruby colour, quite transparent and I notice a few tears on the glass after swirling it a little. So I would expect a medium bodied wine and an alcohol level of approx. 13%. I sniff the glass and smell intense fruit, both red and dark, and some spices. Hard to tell which, but I don't really care for now. I take a sip and immediately feel the acidity on my tongue and palate. Not much bitterness or pulling my gums (so not much tannin). That's it. Now let's plot it on the radar, like the picture on the left. Then connect de dots as in the right picture:
Now we have a profile. This way I learned that I like high tannin, low-to-medium acidity wines, with not too much alcohol and with abundant (red) fruits, some floral and vegetal tones. Also that I'm not fond of spices or minerals when it comes to red wine. Now I can look for this type of profile at back-of-the bottle wine labels.
Alternatively, I can choose wine made from grape varieties and blends that I know produce this type of profile. There's a wonderful aroma matrix available in the piacero quick reference guide that tells you which grape produces which aroma. Of course this paper guide is included in Piacero's leather wine journal. You can also download one for free here, but you cannot take the electronic version with you in a leather cover ;-).
Anyway, it's good to have you here and hope to see you again soon. Do check in every now and then to see if there's something new!