How to expand your palate...


When you think about wine tasting, an important consideration is an understanding of what your personal taste and smell library looks like. Depending on your culture, ethnicity, what region of the country or world you grew up in, and many other factors, your personal exposure to various smells and tastes can vary widely from others. Why does this matter, you ask? Well learning to taste and enjoy wine draws from that smell and taste “sensory library” and how you identify what you smell when you swirl a glass of wine as well as what you taste in the wine. Now to clear up any confusion, wine does not have any added flavors. The smells and flavors you detect come from the grapes and the vessel they were fermented and/or aged in. The exception to this is Port...which is fortified and therefore not a true wine. We will discuss ports in a future post. So what can you do to expand your palate and learn to identify smells and tastes that you aren't familiar with? There are many options and all will help. You can buy a kit that comes prepackaged with tiny vials of concentrated liquids representing various smells that you might detect on the “nose” (smell) of the wine. They can be expensive but are certainly potentially worth the investment if you want a large variety of scents in a nice package all at once. Other things you can do are visit your local farmer's market or produce market and buy small quantities of fruits and vegetables, spices and seasonings, and really anything that represents a smell or taste that you aren't familiar with or have trouble identifying. Then spend the next week smelling and tasting small amounts of what you bought each day so that you can commit them to your “sensory library”. Can you pick out the scent of cloves vs cinnamon? How about pomegranates vs raspberries? If you haven't experienced these foods then they may be difficult to identify. Would you recognize bell pepper vs jalapeno pepper, or tobacco vs oak chips? While it may seem obvious that they would smell or taste differently, if you have not been exposed to them and added them to your “sensory library” then you will have a difficult time recognizing and identifying them. That is why exposure and practice are crucial to expanding your recognition of smells and tastes, and applying them to wine. Remember, there are many, many ways to expand your palate but you have to commit to making it happen. And as we have said before, it takes practice, practice, practice!