Is there a better way to taste wine?

Most people learn about wine in the same way - especially how to taste. For professionals, that almost always means the WSET Systematic Approach, and increasing numbers of consumers are taking these courses as well. Many others attend less formal courses at one of the many wine schools that have sprung up around the country in recent years.

The basic method of wine tasting hasn't changed for decades. Like terroir, it's something we are taught to accept at face value; like terroir, it's something we should question rather than take for granted.

After all, for many years it was believed that there were only four tastes, sensed by specific and separate parts of the tongue. Nowadays we accept five basic tastes, and the tongue map concept has been firmly abandoned. What if the way we taste wine has other inbuilt fallacies? Then again, the standard way of tasting has evolved over many years and it has a proven track record of introducing thousands of people to wine appreciation - so surely it can't be wrong?

It would be interesting to scrutinise each part of the tasting process and re-evaluate its worth. For example:

  • Does swirling really increase flavour concentration? 
  • What is the optimal volume for a tasting sample? What about temperature?
  • Is tannin best described by levels, textures or shapes?
  • Are we simply parroting fruit flavours according to our expectations of what we know about the wine? (Jamie Goode has written about this)
  • How should balance be assessed, especially in wines which are deemed too young?

Tasting wine for educational purposes will always be imperfect, because it is attempting to deconstruct and analyse the quality of something which is usually enjoyed holistically and which depends strongly on context. Even so, the wine industry should beware of complacency and bad habits.