Developing your own personal wine palate is not a very easy concept for most people to wrap their minds around.
It’s easy to pinpoint why we like a certain type of food. But ask most people to speak ad nauseam about why they like a Pinot Noir or Rioja and you might either get a confused look, experience silence or hear: “I know what I like and what I don’t like.”
We’ve had a lifetime of trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning over food options that we have tried since we were kids. We know what we love. We know what we don’t love so much. We know what we can only have a small dose of and we most certainly know what takes us to a very special, elated place.
When it comes to wine, most of us in the United States haven’t had a lifetime of trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning over wine. Most of us were only able to access wine in our late teens or early 20s for the first time. We tend to be at a disadvantage compared to many of our European counterparts.
As a result, it’s difficult for us to sometimes rub two adjectives together to describe what we like about wine and why. Some might opt for an ubiquitous statement like: “I like a nice full-bodied red” or “I’ll take any white wine, except for Chardonnay.”
The great thing about developing your own wine palate is that it just takes a little trial and error, tasting and sampling, and smiling and frowning – which could be a lot of fun and easier than you think.
I’ve taught a number of wine classes in NYC and the easiest way for me to get my students to really connect the dots to what’s going on in the glass to what they are experiencing is to walk through a systematic process. It’s called the Five “S’s” of wine tasting. Now, there are several variations on the S’s that sommeliers and wine educators use. Some educators use four. Some people use seven. I like to use five. I’ll tell you what they are and why I use five.
SEE – The first “S” stands for “see.” This is an important first step which allows you to state the obvious (red, white, rose, sparkling) and then uncover some not so obvious things about the coloring and style of your wine.
SWIRL – The second “S” involves the student physically getting involved in the process, by swirling the wine. Swirling the wine helps warm up the wine a bit and allows it to interact with oxygen. This helps you get a better sense of the intricate aromas the wine if offering up in the glass.
SNIFF – The third “S” is all about sticking your nose deep in the glass and taking a series of sniffs to see if you can pick out the smells that are present in the glass of wine. Then you verbalize what you are experiencing. This is a very important step as the sense of smell is very crucial to wine tasting, wine consumption and wine enjoyment.
SIP – The fourth “S” is finally about getting that juice in your mouth. You want to allow it to fully interact with and engulf your entire mouth to get a deeper perspective of all the elements of wine. This step is all about tasting the wine’s unique characteristics, how it was produced and an sense of what region from which it came.
SAVOR – The last “S” is for the wine taster to take a moment and really consciously experience the wine. That means thinking about how it feels in your mouth. Concentrate on the flavors you are getting from the wine. The taster should ask themselves: What does it do to your mouth? What does it taste like when you swallow it? What are the main flavor profiles? What flavors are secondary? Now, you can begin to think about if that wine will be something you would only have in small doses or if it could be something you might crave – and why!
Taking this systematic and guided approach to wine tasting provides you time and opportunity to analyze the whole experience of wine. I personally opt for the Five S approach because I really like to end the experience at savor. Savor to me is at the point where you and the wine really bond.
In this day and age, we get into a routine where we’re running, running, running in our daily lives. We’re multitasking and sometimes we are phoning in many of our experiences. We are not paying attention to these little luxuries of life like food and wine. The savor step forces you to be in the moment and try to determine what exactly is going on in your mouth.
I’d hope the savoring step would be a memorable and pleasurable bonding experience. Even if it is not the most tasty, it still forces you to fully taste the wine. That is an important step in the right direction toward understanding what you like and how to choose wines to satisfy your palate.
My goal is for you as a wine taster to appreciate the wine from its appearance, its smell, its flavors and make a concerted effort to be in the moment to get to know the wine on a real level.