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Is understanding wine a talent, or can a novice oenophile learn?

Is understanding wine a talent, or can a novice oenophile learn?

Apr 26th, 2012, 01:41 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2003
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Is understanding wine a talent, or can a novice oenophile learn?

Dear Foodie/Wine Fodorites, I am a lover of wine who lacks entirely in the art of tasting and pairing. Is there hope for me?

- I do know when I taste a wine what I don't like about it.
- There have been many occasions when I have a dish with a wine and I know that the wine brings out something good, or makes the dish or the wine taste worst.
- I also can SOMETIMES understand, when taking in the aroma before sipping, what I detect in the wine (e.g. berries, flowers, etc.).

Unfortunately, this very low level of understanding of wine is all I possess! And I am close to several people who, when they taste wine, seem to get it all.

My question: is understanding wine a talent, like drawing, or is it something I can learn? I hope yes! But I would like to know if it's really something you (or rather your nose, mouth, and brain) are born with.

If as I dearly hope one can learn, how? Is it a matter of taking practical steps (e.g. noting in a log somewhere that X varietal tastes good with Y cheese)? Can I just hang out a lot with people who know and who are willing to patiently teach? Or is it a more complex process of studying different smells and tastes?

I know what sommeliers will tell you (what they are trained to tell you): drink what you like! But I also know that sometimes a wine just doesn't work with some food, while another wine will work perfectly, and I don't just want someone to tell me what to order, I want to KNOW what to order.

I know many Fodorites are keen foodies and wine lovers, and I hope this question will provoke a good discussion but also some helpful answers.


mp413 is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 01:49 PM
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My husband is a whiz at wine pairings and identifying the pear undertones or the oak base or the peppery finish. I never have a clue what he's talking about. It all tastes the same to me EXCEPT for Champagne. I can pick out the best Champagne for any food or occasion. He, however, thinks all Champagne tastes the same and is a waste of good money that could be spent on a nice red.

We both learn a little more about wine each time we schedule a tasting or a wine trail trip.
Bowsprit is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 02:09 PM
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You seem to have a pretty good basis. Take a wine tasting/appreciation class , go to some wine tastings, read some of the books (the old standby - Hugh Johnson's World Wine Atlas has served me well for the past 40 or so years http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/worl...son/1102260640 ) , and most of all - just enjoy what you like.

There are some good inexpensive wines (love to shop at Trader Joe's here in SD - and also the Bev Mo's of this world),and some so-so higher priced ones, but will say - there are also some very good - more expensive wines.

Back in '74 - at my first wine tasting course, we had a $20, $30 and $60 bottle of Burgundy (Pinot Noir) grand finale tasting - and while the $20 and $30 were close - the $60 stood out. You could probably multiply those prices by 10 to get today's equivalents.

In any event - it's all about what your palette likes.

And Bowsprit: I also love Champagne - and can easily tell a very good one (preferably very dry/yeasty) - from the cheap stuff. Also like Red and Whites - especially big Chards (can't usually afford the big Reds @ today's prices) , although the trend today is to mute our marvelous California Chards. Hey - the Montrichards of this world are great - but they don't have our grapes!!
Tomsd is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 02:14 PM
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Some people have Le Nez, some don't. I know I don't.

I do know the difference between a decent wine, so-so wine and rot gut.

To be honest with you, I don't care if there are "hints of tobacco" in the wine or not.

I do like the scene in French Kiss, where Kevin Kline is showing Meg Ryan his science project, in which he compares the wine to the various attributes of the soil.

You can try to learn, but please be sincere in what you're saying. We have too many faux wine snobs already.
Rastaguytoday is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 03:56 PM
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Just continue to experiment and practice. Drink what you like and don't worry about what the snobs say.
My DH also can smell and taste different flavors. He will have me taste a wine and ask "what do you taste"? I say "wine". He says"don't you taste a cherry, peppery .....". NO"

Just drink what you enjoy!
MichelleY is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 05:47 PM
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Fiddely Foo. Just lost another post. Anywhooooooo - good advice from others - and you probably now know enough to generally pair food offerings with wine - and don't worry about citing it chapter and verse as some try to do.

As for moi - I can usually better discern nose/aroma/bouquet vis a vis the different "tastes" -- but I can taste certain things in wine, just not as much as some "instructors" would find.

Actually - I think the power of suggestion - leads some tasters around by the nose - and they try to sniff the nose/aroma/bouquet or identify the taste (fruits, pepper, wet wool, dirty soil, etc) of whatever the "expert" has suggested to them.

BTW - you do know the classic definition - at least the way I learned it - of the "nose" of a wine - don't you?

If I remember correctly - the "nose" of a wine is a combination of the aroma (which comes from the grape) and the bouquet (which comes from the oak, aging process). Of course, over the years - I may have shuffled the three.

And then you hold it up to the light and swirl it in the glass- to see the "legs" of the wine. It gets even racier as you drink it.
Tomsd is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 06:01 PM
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I hate Champagne. Dont know why people drink it at all, especially at weddings. It's good for breaking on ship's hull for goodluck.
BTW, I hate caviar too, especially red caviar. I've been eating black caviar at weddings all my life, and cant understand why people love it. BTW 2, I hate lobster, crab, sushi, oysters, calimari, etc. BTW 3, I hate beer, Bud light and Corona I drink occassionally; but come on beer tastes bad.

As for wine, I like it. But dont like Italian or French wine. I do like Canadian, Australian, California, NY, PA, and Russian and Georgian(the country) wines. White or red, dont matter to me.
Anyone here had Borjomi or kvas?
POMAH is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 09:01 PM
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Tomsd - I still think too many drugs in the '70's.

POMAH - How can you dismiss entire countries of wine?

You might read the book about the wine tasting of 1976. If nothing else, it showed that one's perception about a certain country's wine can be wrong, even among the 'experts'.

Even better, have a spouse or friend or partner try a blind tasting on you. If they know a bit about wine, you can be totally fooled as to what is from where.
Rastaguytoday is offline  
Apr 26th, 2012, 09:11 PM
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Oenophile always sounds like a pedophile in training.

I was noting to people at lunch today, that people take food and wine too damn seriously. The language of acceptance and rejection is filled rigid terms and squeezes the joy out of it and just leaves the pretense.

As Rasta and Michelle urge others, just enjoy the damn stuff and if you learn more and more terrific.
Aduchamp1 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 01:21 AM
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Bowsprit is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 05:25 AM
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LOL Rasta. No - actually I didn't do that many drugs - but friends of mine sure did. Will confess to burning some hemp though.

The mainest point is enjoy your wine - and if you want to keep learning - do so.

And Pomah: Maybe it's easier to list what you what you do like?
Tomsd is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 05:26 AM
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In terms of tasting, you could educate yourself with tastings but why? Find a good wine merchant whom you trust and who understands your tastes.
Pairings are not rocket science, really. Trial and error.

And POMAH, you drink little beer because it tastes bad but drink BUD LIGHT , which around here is known as weasel p*ss?
jubilada is online now  
Apr 27th, 2012, 01:43 PM
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Why would anyone rely on the kid behind the counter when buying wine rather than go to a tasting??? Tastings are fun!
Bowsprit is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 02:32 PM
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Now it's starting to heat up. Palate wars eh? Hey - I normally don't drink Bud either but do like the Bud Light Lime on a warm day.

And as for asking others about wine - try to find someone in the store/shop who really knows their reds or whites, hopefully both - and then tell them what you like, want to spend, etc, and they should be able to offer some good suggestions.

And do go to tastings they may have. Here in SD - Beverages and More has $2 tastings on Saturdays, and Wine Steals has $5 Tuesday nights - where you can try several reasonably prices wines for --- yup - $5.

Keep trying different wines, vintages, etc - and come up with what you really like. One of our favorites - from Trader Joe's here in SD - is an inexpensive $5.99 Merlot - a 2008 Napa River - and despite repeated attempts - I have yet to find anything under $15 I like more. Old growth Zins, Australian Syrahs, nice Italian blend offerings, Chilean Rojas, Argentinean Malbecs, Trader Joe Paso Robles specials, etc etc - and I still come back to the this trusty Napa Merlot. Of course, you can easily double that $15 target price (in multiples even) - looking for some very good quality wines.

And I have found a very inexpensive Chardonnay - which I am not going to share - but it fits my tastes - until I get a hankering for a big - buttery/oaky Chard, which again, they don't make as much as they used to.
Tomsd is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 03:30 PM
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Tomsd: Now why aren't they making as many big, buttery Chards?

I love a nice, crisp Gruener Veltliner but I know I'm probably in the minority. I do love that twist top bottle.
Bowsprit is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 04:08 PM
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Love me some Grue V too!

I took a class on wine at the local community college several years ago. I wanted to learn to taste wine instead of just drinking it. It was great. Learned about wines, terroir, wine making, grapes, how to taste, etc. it was 4 weeks, 8 hours a week. After that, a friend and I started a wine group with several other women, meeting once a month to taste different wines - often a theme. They are still meeting 7 years later!

I love to pair food and wine. Sometimes I just send a text of the main flavor of the food im having to E wine. 411-511. they send you back brand names of wines but ignore that part and see what grape they are suggesting. I use them to get ideas but sometimes I think they miss.

I agree with others that you should just try more wines, maybe a class or two and just enjoy!
Austin is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 04:16 PM
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Bow: Because they can make and sell the others easier and cheaper. They try to pass it off as being more complex - but all of Napa wants to churn out younger wines, that you buy and drink earlier and then come back to buy more.

Even one of my mid-priced favorites - Hess Select - has gone the road of dumbing down. And I can't even find Hansell anymore.

Of course to cover this - they say the latest Chards are more complex, you have to really savor them, yada yada yada.

While I like a good Montrachet (it's fricking expensive too http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montrachet ) - they can't match the great California chardonnay grapes, so they have to blend.
Tomsd is offline  
Apr 27th, 2012, 07:26 PM
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Bow, if you reread my post, I did not suggest talking to the kid behind the counter. A good experienced wine merchant is at least as useful as tastings .
jubilada is online now  
Apr 27th, 2012, 08:40 PM
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There is no mystery. Drink what you like and don't be concerned what others have to say about your preferences. Life is short. Enjoy.

happytrailstoyou is offline  
Apr 28th, 2012, 08:30 AM
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Do you have a Costco nearby?

Costco wines have short descriptions - buttery, cherry, oak, etc.

Just pick out a few and see if you can taste what is in the descriptions.

I used to like buttery Chardonnays but today much prefer the lighter $3.99 (or is it $4.99?) Blue Fin Viognier (Trader Joe's) as a casual everyday wine.

Everyone has different tastes - don't let the "experts" fool you. Do your own thing.

There are all kinds of "tastings", most designed to sell wine. By all means, go to tastings, but trust your own taste buds.

We once bought a case of red wine at a Central Coast winery which was one of the best reds we've ever tasted. It wasn't a Napa Valley wine (snob value), the label wasn't that attractive and it had a twist cap. The winery had put it on sale because people buy wine by the looks of the bottle instead of how the wine inside the bottle tastes. So, again, trust your own taste buds.

You're an expert already - just don't get too snobby, OK?
easytraveler is offline  

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