Commentary By Ron Hopwood
Of course, you can enjoy wine reasonably well without ever understanding what you are tasting. But, don’t you understand music more if you know what you are listening to? Come to that, don’t you enjoy food more if you know what you are eating?
Even at the most high-spirited gathering, thinking about what you are drinking only takes a few moments. And it helps if you have some sort of framework in your mind to work from. A vocabulary of tasting terms is a great aid. These descriptions can be as straightforward or as fanciful as you like, providing that each one means something to you. And before you say that wine tasters’ language is all pretentious, let me point out that the same flavor compounds that give green peppers and fresh roasted coffee their flavor, also appear (in small quantities) in Cabernet Sauvignon. So to describe Cabernet in terms of green peppers is fine.
The tongue can only taste the basic flavors of sourness or acidity, sweetness, bitterness and saltiness. Everything else we perceive as flavor is in fact smell. If you do not believe me, hold your nose, close your eyes and try to decipher red wine from white wine, or coffee from tea. There is no doubt that wine can create passionate comment, because the complexity and changing variety of flavors which wine offers is equaled nowhere in the world of food and drink. And inside broad swathes of taste there is a myriad of differences, tiny, increasingly subtle, yet measurable.
Final note. A wine will taste different depending on, of course what you are eating, but also what you ate earlier, the weather outside, even who you are with at the time, each situation puts you in certain moods. So taste often!