Ever wonder what the taste buds on your tongue actually do? Besides the obvious thing, that they detect taste, they’re in fact much more nuanced and specialised that you might think. They detect sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and the mysterious fifth type of taste, umami (savouriness) - but what you also might not know is that they don’t do it alone.
Your palate consists of taste buds, tongue, and even the inside of your mouth - but the most important sensor of all is actually your nose. If you’re looking to develop your palate, try to pay attention to what’s going on in these areas when you eat or drink something with complex flavours, such as wine. To assist with the process, there are also a number of easy steps you can take.
First of all, ease up tiger
Have you ever slowly devoured a delicious piece of chocolate - especially one from a specialised chocolatier? If you take your time, you enhance the experience and notice the textures melting over your tongue, you can really make it something special. When you do the same thing with wine, and really let your senses take over, it can greatly enhance both the experience drinking the wine itself, but also start to develop the different delicate parts of your palate, and you’ll start to notice some of the subtle flavours more over time.
Step by step: look, smell, and then taste
The look of a wine isn’t as important as its smell, however both play a big part in our perception of a wine - all before it even touches our lips. You can test this theory - blindfold a friend and giving them a room temperature bold white wine such as a white Rioja - you’ll find that you can trick them into thinking it’s a red wine! If you go one step further and remove your nose from sensing a wine, it becomes very difficult to taste anything, instead you just ‘sense’ the texture.
Daydream. Or, err… visualise
If you sit with your nose hovering over a glass of wine with your eyes closed, you’ll find that you can suddenly start identifying the flavours and notes faster than you would be able to do with your eyes open. It’s a well-documented phenomenon that when you remove one sense (in this case, sight) - the others are enhanced to compensate. Cool trick, human body! If you visualise what you’re smelling - a lemon, freshly zested in the summer sun, a cut peach on a plate - you can actually isolate flavours and paint a picture in your mind that might resemble other pictures you associate with similar tastes. This is how some experts can name a wine’s style and even region during a blind taste test. When you train your palate, tasting a typical Pinot Noir will be like tasting avocado… you’ll know it as soon as you smell it!
Once you have sussed out the flavours, move on
It’s easy to get caught up on a particular flavour in a wine. If you take a deep breath and can identify one strong flavour above all others, such as cherry or wood, sometimes it’s hard to get past the initial smell and identify the wine, and appreciate its other subtleties. Once you identify a single flavour or aroma, it’s useful to consciously move past it and really think about what else you can sense. The smaller nuances are what make a wine unique, and you’ll start to pick up particular identifying features which can indicate where it originates, and what type of wine it is.
That body! That texture!
It sounds like an ad for shampoo, but it also applies to vino. Fruit flavours aren’t the only flavours in a wine: texture adds to the overall experience of the flavour and gives a wine body. For example Viognier, a white wine, is known for featuring an almost ‘oily’ texture in the middle of the tongue, which is brought about by its natural sweetness. If you’re struggling to sense it, rub your tongue on the roof of your mouth to identify things such as minerality or tannin (bitterness).
Sweet, tasty memories
Singling out the features of a wine will help you to build a taste memory. You will find that your new-found ‘wine memory’ is something you can use, and you’ll sometimes even subconsciously refer to it when tasting new wines and finding your preferences. For instance, you might find that an Aussie Shiraz for you evokes ripe red berries, and it will help you identify the wine during a lineup at a tasting. Using taste memory can also help when pairing food and wine: do your research, and whenever you find a match that appeals to you, note it down and use some of the tips above to remember and appreciate the way the flavours change and develop.
Though experimentation and experience, you’ll start to find your appreciation of different types of wine will evolve - and we hope you’ll continue to learn about your own tastes and preferences.
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