The late, great pianist Bill Evans was once asked to give advice on how to study music. His thoughts, in paraphrase, were this: “all you need to know can be learned through careful listening.” This is of course, a simplification and Evans did have the distinct advantage of being a musical genius, but the lesson still applies to the mere mortal: the ear, if trained to listen properly, will give access to the key aspects of the art-form. Seems obvious, right? Well, this approach applies to learning about wine — the key points about any wine are waiting in the bottle, and can be appreciated and identified through careful tasting by an informed palate. Note the word “informed.”
Luckily, our palates are already equipped to taste the nuances of wine–we need only train them to focus and identify. Most of us have the requisite number of taste buds, and olfactory receptors–all that is needed to ‘listen’ to what our glass is saying. Our tongues, noses and sensory memories –needed to recall and identify –may, however, need a bit of tuning and practice.
The key is, of course, practice –which in wine terms simply means consciously tasting wine on a regular basis. Arduous business, I know, but do try to bear with it. That first recognition of grape varietal, or characteristic flavor note (here’s where some book knowledge applies) can be an ”Aha!” experience, an epiphany that fuels deeper observations and starts a life-long oenological journey.
Knowledge of iconic styles and varietals can inform expectations — -e.g. “Is the wine in keeping with the style or a deviation? Did you get a cassis note from that text-book example of Cabernet Sauvignon, taste tart cherries in that Sangiovese, or smell the tar and roses in that outstanding Barolo? ” Knowing and looking for classic flavor profiles can focus the palate.
Familiarity with regional wine making laws/practices and techniques can frame the inquiry-e.g. type of barrel, French, American oak, new or used? Carbonic maceration, barrel fermentation, filtered, malolactic? etc.
Even a flawed wine can be instructive. e.g. “Is that Brett, oxidation, volatile acidity?”
Finally, a bit of study can help unravel those seemingly mysterious Old World wine labels, and knowledge of styles and flaws can increase confidence at restaurants and shops.
Classes at all levels of expertise are available at Amanti to expand your knowledge of wine’s language, and guide you on your journey- if you so desire. So taste regularly and listen to your wine. Odds are you’ll like what its saying.
– Thaddeus Kawecki