Tasting wine can often feel intimidating, especially with near-infinite combinations of flavors and expressions. There exists a stigma that only professionals hold educated palates, but in truth, anyone can be a skillful wine taster. Humans are born with the genetic makeup to recognize, process, and recall several thousand unique aromas. Therefore, developing a more mindful approach to tasting will help hone in on a deeper connection to wine, its regions, and styles.
The first step to mindful wine tasting is understanding sensory science. In other words, our body’s perceptions of sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. To judge a wine’s quality, we tap into aromas, flavors, and structural elements that collide in a single sip. Karen MacNeil, the author of The Wine Bible, compares this experience to a harmonious symphony rather than a group of instruments playing music together.
The Science of Wine Tasting
According to Neel Burton, author of The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, the tongue has five thousand taste buds. Their overall responsibilities include detecting temperature, effervescence, and viscosity. Specific to wine, taste buds interpret the heat of alcohol and the astringency of tannins. They also produce saliva when faced with acidity.
Stimulated taste buds, in collaboration with flavor receptors, then flash the information to the olfactory bulb in the brain. This happens via retronasal olfaction, the perception of odors during eating and drinking. In contrast, orthonasal olfaction is the perception of odors during sniffing.
Everyone is built with the hardware to be an expert wine taster. The key to taking tasting to the next level is to be disciplined and conscious about the process. Mindfulness is leveraging deliberate intent to increase sensory endurance and understanding.
Mindful Wine Tasting Technique
Taste in a controlled environment because the more distractions, noises, and smells in a room, the less likely you can pick up a wine’s cues and aromas.
First, confidently give the wine a swirl and hold the glass up to your nose. Close your eyes and lightly inhale for a few short rounds. Notice the intensity of the aromas and whether they are tight or broad, delicate or pungent.
Next, take a sip and compare and contrast the structural elements. Notice how acidity, astringency, alcohol, and sweetness affect the mouth’s ecosystem. Note the flavors, the nuances and sensations, and the intensity of the finish.
It’s good practice to use a tasting grid as a guide and a journal as support. Allow time and space to connect and recall any emotions or memories that may arise. An open mind and a calm, relaxed body help connect us to what the wine conveys. Much like wine needs time to breathe to express its character fully, give yourself time to breathe as well.
The Importance of Practice
Tasting consistently can have extraordinary mental clarity and bring consciousness to viticulture practices and winemaking techniques. What’s left is a greater appreciation for the people and cultures that make the ever-evolving liquid in the glass possible.
When tasting, try a variety of wines that exhibit a range of aromas, flavors, and styles. Specifically, get familiar with secondary aromas like cream, pastry, and parmesan and tertiary aromas like mushroom, dried fruit, and tobacco. Explore the decadent flavors found in Champagne or wines aged on the lees or matured in oak barrels. Wines high in quality typically display a rich, decadent texture and a long, delicious finish.
The quality level and age-worthiness are important take-aways, proving the why behind certain styles. To age with finesse, a wine (and human!) must start with a solid foundation.
It’s a great reminder that consistent study builds more awareness. It’s also important to note that everyone has a different taste tolerance; someone’s reference to cherry might be someone else’s interpretation of raspberry. So, developing your palate is critical.
Mindfulness in wine tasting can benefit the brain by creating infinite patterns of recognition, building confidence, and creating remarkable experiences. One of the biggest joys of being human is the ability to eat, drink and be merry with people we love. Wine connects people to the earth, brings us together and inevitably, closer to ourselves.