Is wine tasting a difficult skill to master?
There are countless occasions in which we find ourselves sharing a meal, tastings in wineries, social events, etc., where there are wines involved. Initially, we concentrate on perceiving their characteristics, but soon enough we surrender to hedonism and simply enjoy the experience. Why? It certainly depends on the context, but could it be that there is a skeptical view of wine? We might feel that understanding wine is reserved for the most knowledgeable individuals. Are we a little intimidated by not knowing how to recognise aromas, flavours, sensations and structures associated with wines?
The Complexity and Emotional Influence of Wine Tasting
Let's start from the premise that wine is a complex beverage, we agree, it demands more concentration from the taster. In order to understand it, there is a series of correlated stages that we have to carry out, which coexist in such a way that they look like different instruments playing together to obtain a melody. These are our senses, which must also collude at all times with our brain, to fix the perceived characters in our mind which will then lead us to make a judgment.
In addition to how chemically complex this concoction can be, there is an elitism associated with its consumption (a topic that could be explored in a future essay). But it is also true that consumers who have no knowledge or experience in wine can make a great performance during a tasting, influenced by emotional components, such as: comfort and enthusiasm, which could have a positive effect on their satisfaction and consequent Word of Mouth recommendation.
Based on relatively recent findings in neuroscience and psychology, it is well known that our senses interact to produce unified multi-sensory experiences, almost limitless combinations of elements that in this case collide in a single sip, but what makes us skilled wine tasters?
Anyone can be an expert wine taster, but the key is to take wine tasting to the next level by being disciplined and aware of the process.
Professionals and amateurs
Do wine professionals have a unique ability to subtly discriminate aromas and flavors? Not necessarily!
The truth is that amateurs in the world of wine can perform as well as professionals in perceptual discrimination tasks; they just don't know they can do it. The difference between amateurs and professionals is the knowledge they have of the wines; experts must focus on quality evaluation, which leads them to be able to better organize their knowledge. On the other hand, social drinkers are more likely to cling to a criterion of preference.
Amateur tasters focus on the sensations they are getting rather than on what those sensations can tell them about the wine. They often say they don't like the taste of a German Riesling or an Albariño from northern Spain and by that they mean the sensation of acidity. However, once they know that sensation is a characteristic of those varieties and that it is an important characteristic that determines the shelf life of a wine, their experience begins to move away from mouthfeel and toward an understanding of the wine. And so, their subjective opinion comes to refer to the wine and not to themselves.
Mindful tasting techniques and/or mindfulness?
Tasting as mentioned above is a multisensory experience, where the brain is integrating the stimuli of touch, taste and smell, also considering other factors such as vision and hearing. Looking at the color of a wine generates expectations, for evolutionary reasons, red suggests sweetness and green, acidity. Even the sound the wine makes when it is poured into the glass can create expectations. That is when the brain is activated and gives rise to expectations that condition the experience.
In professional circumstances it is of utmost importance to have a controlled environment, free from visual and ambient noises that may alter our perception. This is followed by the 4 phases of tasting (1. visual, 2. olfactory, 3. gustatory and 4. retronasal) to finally contrast the elements of this whole sensory ecosystem and draw the relevant conclusions.
On the other hand, in convivial environments, wine takes on a different role, directly influencing our mood and can induce pleasure and a greater awareness of the present moment. In fact, there are studies that suggest that moderate wine consumption develops greater awareness of the present moment, acting as a kind of social lubricant, improving mood and increasing excitement. This should not be surprising considering that among human needs is the search for pleasurable altered states of consciousness, a behavior rooted in many human cultures since ancient times.
The key of enjoying wine is not to favour one circumstance over the other (conscious vs. hedonic tasting). Instead, both practices will naturally coexist in our lives to some degree, and it is essential to allow room for both approaches.
The importance of practicing + Tips for improving wine tasting skills
Tasting with consistency and awareness can favor mental clarity, by practicing techniques such as:
Understand and know the families of aromas present in wines (primary, secondary, tertiary);
Meet with friends to taste formal/informal as preferred, the important thing is to maintain a frequency and comment on them.
Take on a virtual masterclass on wine with autonomous learning.
Acquiring habits that allow the development of the palate is fundamental.
In addition, knowing the story behind each bottle enhances your skills, as every wine carries something special to tell, and over time you will notice how you will gain a greater appreciation for the people and cultures crafting the liquid in your glass.
Do not forget that a good practice is to use wine tasting notes (table format recommended) as a guide so as not to forget what you are tasting, like a personal logbook. This ensures you do not forget the intricate details of each wine you explore.
Conscious wine tasting can benefit the brain by creating recognition patterns, building confidence and creating remarkable experiences. Read with your feelings and mind, it is a power! And don't forget, there is always room for improvement!