While taking a wine class in my twenties, I saw a sommelier taste a wine blindfolded and identify the country, region, grape varieties, and vintage. This display of skill amazed the entire class and made me even more thirsty for knowledge.
Fortunately, developing your palate to identify wine characteristics by taste isn’t difficult. Anyone can develop this skill through practice and repetition.
The following approach has served me and others well for years. Pick a wine or region to focus on and drink that wine until your palate can recognize the wine’s characteristics before moving on to learn another wine.
You may adapt this method to your needs and apply it to other beverages, just as I used it to learn about Scotch whiskey.
Here is an example from my personal experience
Step one: What region or wine is your focus?
I chose cabernet sauvignon from California’s major wine regions: Napa Valley, Alexander Valley, Lodi, and Paso Robles.
Step two: How much time will you spend on your focus region or wine, and how often will you drink?
I spent two weeks per region, tasting four different wines from the same region per week.
Step three: Purchase textbook wines.
It is essential to buy textbook examples of wines to reference how the wines should taste.
I recommend purchasing a non-textbook example of a similar wine to compare the two wines side by side. Explain to a wine store employee what you want so they can assist you.
Find textbook examples of the wine you are learning
Find a reputable wine store with knowledgeable employees to help you. Ask an employee what their area of expertise is, as some may be experts in French wine, while others may be experts in Italian wine.
Take pictures of the labels of the wines you taste for reference. The notes app on smartphones is fantastic for storing images and adding notes about the wine.
If possible, get friends involved in your wine journey. Try hosting wine-themed events with friends, signing up for wine classes, and treating it more as formal education.
Learning a skill often requires hard work and training. The only requirement in developing your palate is drinking wine (or other libation) and a desire to learn. Training your palate will increase your confidence with wine, help you pair food and wine, and enable you to make smarter wine decisions when shopping.
About the author
Curt Sassak is the president of Winetasters Choice, a promotional agency based in Texas and serving seven states. Curt is a 35-year veteran of the food and beverage industry, with the first 27 years of his career spent as a chef.