Wine tasting

I am definitely not a gourmet when it comes to food and drink. My senses of taste and smell are not highly developed and I do not frequent fancy restaurants. My idea of a good eating experience is to order familiar take out dishes from local Chinese, Thai, Indian, and Mexican restaurants. My reaction to food consists of just three categories: good, okay, or bad.

I also do not drink alcohol of any kind, never having acquired the taste for it. So in social settings where the conversation turns to food or wine, I usually sit silently when people discuss the finer points. It turns out, though, that the people discussing wine so knowledgeably may actually not have a much more discerning palate than my own coarse one.

David Derbyshire reports that even professional wine tasters who judge competitions seem to be highly variable in their judgments. In one experiment they were even unable to distinguish between red and white wine.


  1. NitricAcid says

    I’m still skeptical about the claims that people not being able to tell the difference between reds and whites- reds are fermented on the pulp for a week or so, while whites are made by pressing the juice form the pulp first, so that they don’t extract a number of pigments and flavours from the skins. I’ll have to try it some day when I have a lot of grape wine on-hand (I tend to prefer fruit wines).

    That being said, I’ve heard a lot about the subjectiveness of winetastings. I heard one story about a winery that was throwing a party for its investors and staff for the release of their new rose (what is now known as blush). But they only had one case of it onhand, so when they needed more, they rounded up a bunch of different whites, tossed in a bottle of red, mixed it well, and served it to these wine professionals, who never commented on the switch.

  2. says

    I agree, HNO3, that reds and whites taste very different. But that’d be for a classic red versus a classic white. I’ve had some very dark reds that have such a light finish, with no hint of tannin, that I could see myself being fooled if I were blindfolded. I prefer the rose/blush, though. Clean, but with a bit of taste. Beer I like thick and chewy, though.

    **I once enjoyed all but the last few bites of a sandwich before finding the bottom was covered in dog hair, so my taste abilities may be envious of Prof. Singham’s. You may dismiss the above, in light of this, at your leisure.

  3. says

    I enjoy wines, but I agree with you Mano that the ability to distinguish minute differences between wines – and to distinguish elusive notes in blind tastings – is probably exaggerated. My uncle and my father were quite serious wine collectors and tasters and I was tasting from my early teens – and while my own lack of ability could simply be lack of ability, I noticed that my relatives and their very enthusiastic wine tasting friends (who met weekly for over 40 years and held extensive cellars) never seemed to carry on in the manner that so many of us have come to associate with wine tasters. They seriously did detect notes of berries or chocolate or cabbages or whatever – but sometimes, they discussed notes from wine experts and they would be mystified by the things reported – they were serious about wine, but even they thought some of that talk was balderdash.

    Having said that, I can’t believe that any serious wine enthusiast could really be unable to distinguish between a white and a red. Some very robust whites (white burgundies, for example) could possibly fool me if I was blindfolded, but I doubt it, and I am not an expert (I just really enjoy wine! :D).

  4. Frank says

    Coke is good, but Pepsi is disgustingly sweet. RC is superior to both. I know this each time I open a can.

    I have no confidence that I could tell the difference among the three in a blind test. Wine must be much more difficult than cola.

  5. says

    Donovan, you’ve made a good point! There are some newer types of wines that may be dark red in appearance but really not classic in taste or finish! I just realized that my comment was coming from a very limited preference for classic style reds and whites (cabernets, burgundies, sauvignon blancs – etc)

  6. says

    Also, rosés taste very similar (to me) to crisp, fruity whites and also to rieslings. So if I was blindfolded and given a rosé and a fruity white, I expect I’d have no idea which was which! But perhpas someone who enjoys rosés regularly might be able to distinguish between them better.

    Frank, I agree on the colas (Pepsi vs Coke – I haven’t had RC often enough to say). I’d wager that if you drink them regularly enough you would be able to distinguish between them. Coke is just much less sweet than Pepsi and has a far sharper bite. I think you’d know. But it would be fun to do a blindfolded test to see!

    This thread makes me want to test out my high falutin’ claims! 😀

  7. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Wine experts sometimes taste dozens of wines in a session. Although they eat bites of bland food and rinse water in their mouths between wines I think that their palate, their sense of taste and their perception are probably affected fairly quickly

  8. Dunc says

    It’s important to remember that not only is there a significant variation in the basic sensory equipment involved (i.e. the well-established non-taster / taster / supertaster phenotypes) but also that training and experience plays a huge role. Just because more-or-less everybody has the equipment (to some degree) doesn’t mean that everybody learns how to use it effectively – the ability to taste, like the ability to sing, must be practised and developed, even for those who are born with excellent sensory equipment and an innate talent for it.

    The really interesting question this raises for me is more about how you become recognised as a “wine expert”… Just like in most other careers, I suspect that a lot of so-called “experts” are in fact no such thing.

  9. atheist says

    I sometimes go to wine tastings with my significant other. I can sometimes identify the taste that the “expert” running the wine tasting points out in each wine, but at other times I just can’t. I think a lot of what “wine experts” really are is good salespeople. They try to sell you on the wines.

  10. Seeker says

    Coke did have more of a bite before the 1980s, when they switched over to high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar. Now it just feels slimy and too-sweet in the mouth, just like Pepsi and every other HFCS-sweetened cola. Get a Coke from any country where they still use cane sugar (Mexico and Russia being two) and you’ll taste an immediate difference.

  11. machintelligence says

    There is the story of the wine expert who was so good that he could identify the year, vineyard and variety of grape, and make a good guess at the name of the girl who stomped the grapes.

  12. Mano Singham says

    Remember the ‘New Coke’ fiasco, when they made it sweeter to compete with Pepsi?

  13. S says

    We have “Passover Coke” in Cleveland year-round without the high fructose corn syrup, so it’s better tasting as a result.

    With wine I can really only distinguish between the extreme ends of the scale…super fancy or disgusting. Everything in the middle seems about the same to me.

  14. CaitieCat says

    It was vile. I made several calls to the “Go Back To Classic, You Fools!” line at the time, and bought every bit of the good stuff I could find before the horror came to stay. Thankfully, it didn’t.

    Also, definitely can usually tell the difference between Coke here in Canada and Coke from the US (US’ is much sweeter, with the high HFCS content), let alone between Coke, Pepsi, and RC Cola, and have done so in blind tests.

    But then I’ve been drinking outrageous amounts of the stuff for 35 years, and I’m a supertaster. Like a few noted above, it’s the bite, more than the sweetness, which I like best. The bite, that acidic shock, is the payoff for me. I keep glass bottles around so I can decant my Coke into them if I don’t have cans (plastic bottles are much cheaper by volume), because the narrow neck of the bottle, like a champagne flute, helps keep the bite lasting longer, and because the thick glass is a better insulator than the thin plastic of a bottle, or the waxed-paper of a *shudder* fountain drink, so it stays colder longer.

    Don’t much like or drink wine. Never drink spirits. Like a nice cream ale (Kilkenny/Smithwick’s, for instance) in a beer. Of course, I take meds which interact badly with alcohol, causing potentially serious liver damage, so I’ve got strong incentives to avoid drinking. Hence, my one major vice: the acid sweetness of my addiction to Coke.

    (also, the caffeine acts as a nice counterpart to the soporific effect of those meds)

  15. songbird says

    Coke bottled in Cleveland is made with sucrose, not HFCS. Also, kosher for passover coke is HFCS free.

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