Many a neophyte at our wine tastings in Buenos Aires has asked the question (including myself, rhetorically), “How do I taste wine?” Or, “How do I know what a good wine is?”

The simple answer: whatever you like!!

The best way to get “good” at tasting wine is to train your palate to find the things you like and don’t like about wine. Learn by doing. Keep tasting different wines and keep using the same system over and over:

Look at it, smell it, taste it, touch it (in your mouth–determine the “mouthfeel”) and cheers!

The accepted winespeak terms for the phases involved in wine tasting are the “nose”, the “attack”, the “mid-palate” or “evolution” phase and finally the “finish”.

The important part of all of these steps is to determine what you like from each of them. Many people who drink lots of wine never bother to smell a wine. For me personally, especially with more floral wines like Torrontés or earthy wines like Pinot Noir, one can find that the bouquet is just as satisfying as the mouth of the wine (although it doesn’t get you drunk).

Repeating the same process over and over with different wines is essential. This is how most learning in life is achieved anyway. You learned math by repeating addition and subtraction, you learned reading by reciting the alphabet, learning simple words, conjugations and grammar. And you didn’t just do this once. You did it for many many years in grade school, high school and maybe University and beyond to master these skills. Why would training the senses be any different.

Just think about how your tastes have changed since you were young. I for one, never liked tomatoes until I was about 17 or 18. Now, I can’t have a sandwich or salad without tomatoes. Same with spicey foods for me. Same with sushi. Same with beer. Same with wine.

The only mystery behind wine is its complexity (if it is really a complex wine). Wine can encompass so many different aspects of taste, smell, feel and color that some people may feel overwhelmed by all the jargon–especially when getting into the technical processes behind winemaking.

So for now, just buy wines at a certain price point. Taste them blind (cover the bottles). Use the same tasting process to account for error (tasting out of the same glass (and hopefully a wine glass!!) is very important). And enjoy the process! It’s supposed to be fun.

Here is what Dr. Jamie Goode has to say about training the palate:

“The human palate is extremely adaptable. This is largely because there’s a huge learning component to taste. Innately, the sorts of flavours we are drawn to are obvious ones. A child will opt for foods that are sweet and accessible. It’s only later that we acquire a taste for more challenging flavours – those with an element of bitterness, texture or subtlety, for example. There’s also an intellectual or cultural level to tasting, where we think carefully about what we put in our mouths. Horribly subjective, but very important, too.

But most people are, as one Spanish winemaker I once spoke to put it, ‘sensorially illiterate’. We don’t really think about what we put in our mouths. We need ‘big’ flavours to stimulate our lethargic senses; the food equivalent of brain-numbing prime-time TV. In this sense, there’s an element to which most people haven’t trained their palates.

I found it remarkable to learn that French children are actually taught about food; it seems that the French recognise that we don’t appreciate the more complex or enduring tastes without being shown them and given a chance to understand them properly. Some sort of palate education is required. That’s an enlightened approach.”

Dr. Goode’s conclusion:

How do you learn to taste? At the simplest level, you need to drink a broad range of wines in a semi-thoughtful fashion. I’d add that it helps to try to drink these wines in differing contexts: big tastings are valuable, but it’s also important to drink wines at home and in, if possible, in situ – where they are made. Complement this tasting experience with liberal wine reading and ample discussion with fellow wine nuts. The importance of discussion, a two-way process in which you participate, over simply taking in received wisdom from an expert, cannot be emphasized enough. One helpful practice is comparative tasting of a number of wines from the same region. I’ve found it useful to major on the wines of just one region or country for an extended period (weeks or months).”

I have also found these methods to be useful. But in addition to tasting wine from the same region, I would compare the same varieties of grape from region to region (e.g. Pinot Noir from Argentina to Pinot Noir from Oregon to Pinot Noir from France). This will certainly further your training.