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Tasting wine…


From the 10th to 16th October, France celebrates the "Taste Week", or "La Semaine du Gout". The idea behind it is to better know the products from the terroir, to know how to recognise them, cook them, taste them and how best to appreciate them. Wine is an integral part of the French terroir and the country's culture, and has to be one of the most passionate and complex products to understand. So what exactly does wine taste like?

A short history on wine tasting

A long time ago, when someone "tasted" a wine, they did so primarily to look for faults. For example in "Le Sommelier" guides of the 1920's you can find mentions of "a rotten taste" conveyed from insects and disease, "slightly bitter and nauseous taste" due to the use of insecticides, or "earthy tastes" caused by harvesting in wet and muddy conditions.

Until the 1950's, it's the talk and language of the wine merchants that dominates the descriptions. Whilst the winemakers would prefer us to like their wines as they are, the wine merchants wish to offer wines that "please". The narratives don't really talk about the actual taste of the wine and whether it conveys the characteristics of the type of wine. Indeed at this stage, there is no real talk about appellations.

Wine tasting at the winery during a oenology stage in France 

The notion of taste, and more generally of objectively tasting wines, was born in the 1950's with the beginnings of trying to taste in an organised manner in order to compare and appreciate the different wines as objectively as possible. In France, Jules Guyot wrote in his Sur la Viticulture book that "it will be impossible to develop tasting as long as science hasn't given us the signs to use... the science of tasting still has to be completely developed."

How do you develop technical tasting?

So has science made any progress in helping define the taste of a wine? As those who have participated in one of the Vinification Experience Days at one of our partner wineries have discovered, when it comes to describing the taste of a wine, the perceptions can be very varied...

We taste for many different reasons. Just for the pleasure, or for wine professionals to compare styles of wine, their qualities, their faults, its value, or its provenance. The tasting gets even more analytical when it comes to determining a certain quality of wine, or to define and develop a new wine. Taste is a matter of perception, that much is very simple to understand. And yet the science around sensorial evaluation which studies the human responses to physio-chemical properties in food and drink is a highly complex subject. In between the sensation left by a wine and the perception formed by our different senses, there is a whole chain of signals and receptors, each of which can be influenced by the environment within which we are tasting, the weather, and many other external factors.

Wine tasting course and adopt-a-vine experience in France 

To try and keep it simple, our brain creates a global impression of a wine using the different receptors in the skin, mucosal lining, muscles and tendons that are present in our eyes, nose and mouth. When talking just about taste, there are three different types of taste buds spread all over our tongue to allow us to detect different tastes and temperatures.

And that is where we are not all equal when it comes to tasting. The levels to which our senses can detect the different tastes aren't the same for all of us, meaning that for some, a certain taste needs to be stronger before it is detected, whilst others will notice it at a much weaker level. We each have more or less receptors in our taste buds, and produce different amounts of saliva that affect our taste.

Appreciating wine

But no need to worry! We are all capable of tasting something, and the more regularly we taste, we are able to distinguish different tastes more easily.

Adopt-a-vine wine gift box including wine tasting 

So yes, we can say whatever we like when we taste a wine! Why not say your very first thoughts that come to mind when tasting a wine? And the more we try, the easier it becomes, and it helps make sharing a good bottle even more enjoyable.

Let's end with the wise words of one of our adoptive vine owners who recently joined us for the harvest, "Good wine with nice people. I think that that is the definition of happiness!"

Related article 

Wine defects. How to identify faults when tasting wines

 

 

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