Examining the Evidence: Part III – The Palate & Terminology

UC Davis Aroma Wheel

UC Davis Aroma Wheel

We talked about nosing the wine in our last newsletter. Now, let’s move on to the palate and learn how to describe what we are tasting.

When we are evaluating a wine on the palate, we are examining the balance of certain components. This is what will differentiate a good wine from a great one. These include sweetness, the complexity of fruit, the acidity (mouthwatering feel), the alcohol, the tannins (dry mouthfeel), and the finish. When our senses tell us that these are in balance, we describe the wine as being harmonious. If one or more of these components dominate the others, then we have an imbalance. For example, if you experience a burning in your throat, then you are likely to say that the wine is alcoholic. If you are swirling a big luscious red, but the tannins are unusually firm and drying, the wine is out of balance because it is probably too early to drink it. However, with a little time and patience, the tannins will hopefully mellow and integrate with the other components.

Here are a few basic categories to get you started with describing what is in your glass:

1. Fruity – in whites consider citrus fruits like lemon, lime, grapefruit; red, yellow or green apple, pear, mango, pineapple, banana. In reds, red and black berries: cherry, strawberry, raspberry, cassis (black currant), blackberry, blueberry
2. Floral – white gardenia and acacia in Muscats and Rieslings, for example. More prominent as a white wine descriptor, but occasionally in red. Sometimes in reds a perfumed element is detected.
3. Spicy – these descriptors will most likely come from the use of oak: vanilla, coconut, tobacco, leather, black pepper, allspice, clove, cinnamon, white pepper, cigar, a toastiness.
4. Vegetal – this can be positive in small amounts such as asparagus or the smell of freshly cut grass in a Sauvignon Blanc, or herbs such as thyme, lavender, or mint in a Southern Rhône red or Chilean Cabernet. A little too much of this herbaceous character and it becomes unappealing.
It takes time and practice to develop a vocabulary when describing a wine; so, don’t be too hard on yourself when that perfect term doesn’t come to mind. There is only one way to improve and that is to taste, taste, taste…..it is not always an easy task, but you can do it!


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Filed under tasting, wine, wine advice, wine education, Wine Tasting, wine trends

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