Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

Flavor strips

Posted by jamessulis, May 10, 2012.

I've been practicing very hard trying to smell and taste the different flavors in wine. Some of the flavors and smells are obvious like pepper, liquorice, vanilla, oak, cedar, blackberry, cherry, lemon, pear, pineapple and even prune. Now, what about those many other flavors like they are shown on the Aroma Chart, the ones that are harder to discern like, gooseberry, lychee, raisin, fig, cinnamon, ground coffee, truffles green pepper, biscuits, grilled nuts. So, we have our smell and our taste, we have the Aroma Chart and the description on some wine bottles as to the flavors within. These tools help us to describe what we are smelling and tasting or even imagining. What we need is another tool to finalize our education, TASTE STRIPS. We have test strips to determine pregnancy, diabetes, PH papers to test clorine, acidity and we have artificial flavors to put into a test strip. Just imagine, a little kit that the wine merchants could sell that would help you figure out what you're tasting. You touch the tongue with each of the flavor strips in the wine kit, register it in your brain and say, ah yes, that's the flavor in my burgundy or ok is that what ecualyptus tastes like? Further to scratch and sniff for a tool to educate the nose. Sounds far fetched, I really don't think so. If our taste buds are to be educated, we need better tools.


Reply by outthere, May 10, 2012.

Can you say "Gimmick"?

  1. You will taste it when you taste it. Or not. You cannot force yourself into picking up descriptors. It all comes with time.
  2. When your palate allows you to taste something you will.
  3. Just because someone notes something does not necessarily mean you will, or ever will pick up that particular flavor, aroma, etc....
  4. Everyone's palate is different.
  5. Celebrate what YOU find in the wine.
  6. Don't try to be someone or adhere to something that isn't you.
  7. Enjoy the journey!
Reply by EMark, May 10, 2012.

I've never looked at one, and Outthere's "Gimmick" comment may have merit, but I have seen wine aroma and tasting kits available for years.  I don't know if they have strips, but they do seem to have vials of fluids.

Reply by outthere, May 10, 2012.

Those aroma kits are the same type of thing. One cannot properly duplicate an aroma in a vial and the hint of that particular aroma in wine will have a different effect on each person. In my personal tasting notes I only write down what I experience. Whether someone else does or does not is really immaterial to my perception of the wine and I don't try to find things just because someone else feels they noticed it because I probably won't, or I already would have. 

Did that make any sense at all? ;-)

Reply by jamessulis, May 10, 2012.

Those vials or whatever they are I assume can be made of the real thing like orange, essesnce of real orange peel, lemon the same and for the entire gamut. Sometimes I do get frustrated in trying to decide what it is that I can taste but not name. I also truly enjoy trying to figure it out on my own but I for one would appreciate a hint of what the taste is so I can see if I do taste that taste. My nature in itself seems to like to figure it out then be done with it and put it on the "ok I'm satisfied shelf". If I ever see one, I will probably buy it and give it a try. I do accept your philosophy outthere and can attest to other people not being to be able to pick up any flavor name at all. My brother in law and I were drinking an oakey smokey cab one time and I asked him if he tasted the after smoke upon finish and he looked at me like I was from another planet . I feel fortunate that I can at least figure some of the smells and tastes by myself. Thanks for the input, I appreciate other peoples ideas and opinions. Until then I will keep enjoying wine the way I do. Outthere, I like your 7 step list !

Reply by edwilley3, May 10, 2012.

This may make me sound like a Philistine, but I am only willing to go so far. Just as the vinyl enthusiasts claim that there is just "something" that makes the sound better, so do I think that training one's self to detect 200 different aromas is of limited utility. Does one EVER taste as much on the palate as one smells on the nose?

Ultimately, I know that I am likely to be able to pick out a California cab from one made elsewhere. I can get an idea of how ripe the grapes were. I can detect oak aging and to some extent the length of it. I can detect different types of fruits broadly speaking.  I recently had a botrytised riesling from New Zealand that, I ultimately decided, reminded me of the juice in a plastic container of mandrain oranges.  Is my life better for it? Not really. It was tasty and I would buy more if I could find it.

In the end, yes, I want to continue expanding my range. Still, I am pretty happy that I get to drink the wine I do. Even if I don't pick up the smoked, dried, pickled kumquats.

Reply by outthere, May 10, 2012.

Exactly. Remember the notes you make and what you found to be desireable characteristics of the wine. When you come across those again you can relate them to the previous wines notes and find similarities between them.

James, if you are motivated to do such, you can follow your notes and compare them to others on Cellartracker. Sometimes when you have an aroma or flavor you cannot identify and find that it shows up in multiple wines you can decypher it by finding sililar decriptors in others notes on the same bottle. It couldn't hurt.

Reply by jamessulis, May 10, 2012.

Excellent idea outthere, and I have been making notes on the various Cabernet's I consume. I am aware that the flavors I enjoy are, blackberry, prune, oak, cedar, smoke, cigarette ash, pepper, and lush tannins and I mean the tannins that pucker your mouth cells. So in my shopping for wine I find those descriptors frequently on the bottle and most of the time I am not disappointed. Some of the whites especially the Chards are very exciting to my palate as I enjoy the citrus flavors, peach and sometimes the buttery ones. Finally, I will check out Cellertracker and compare my mental notes with others. Thanks for the great tip about Cellertracker.

Reply by GregT, May 11, 2012.

I gotta agree with Outthere for the most part.  But I applaud you in any case James.  I very much enjoy learning and anything that helps is fine with me.

FWIW, I wouldn't worry too much about finding flavors and aromas. Matter of fact, one good way to ruin wine is to spend too much time trying to figure out how many flavors you can pick out. Spend time with wine people and some of them almost taste competitively, trying to come up with the longest list of descriptors they can.  I don't think most of them have a clue, nor do I think most of them really taste all those things. Since I was a child, I was teased for sniffing anything I was going to eat or drink. I don't know why I did it, but it became a habit. And over the years, I've been able to figure out a little bit about wine. But I'm regularly humbled by a few people who instantly pick up on something and they're spot on because once they mention it, it seems obvious.  That also helps them remember this wine vs that wine and years later they can tell you that they liked or didn't like some specific wine from a particular vintage because of whatever it was that they noted.

Those people are very few and far between.  Yesterday I spent the afternoon tasting Rieslings and if I were one of those types who had to take notes and blog about every wine experience in my life, I'd post dozens of notes about acidity, petrol, grapefruit, etc., none of which would really mean much to me or to you.

However, one great way to expand your notice capabilities is to taste with other people.  Years ago I would hear people talk about eucalyptus and I had no clue as to what they meant. Finally I pestered a guy at a tasting - he kept mentioning it and I asked him over and over what it was and he finally explained to me as we tasted side by side, exactly what quality he was referring to. Sometimes something just hits you in the head - the first time I thought of "graphite" was such an occasion but it was so pronounced it just struck me. Other times people have to point out a few things and then you have an "aha" moment. I've learned most by tasting with knowledgeable people and even in fact, tasting with people who aren't so knowledgeable and comparing notes.

And finally, it's not only wine.  Pay attention to EVERYTHING you eat or drink. There's not a single person on this board or any other who has to eat something so badly that they can't pay attention. Nobody's starving here. That cup of tea or coffee, that soda, whatever. Eventually you'll figure out that you really can't stand the chemicals in half the stuff on the market and you'll eschew them. Try a Snickers bar for example, and really really pay close attention to how disgusting it is.  You'll never eat another. But something as simple as an apple can have layers of flavor. Wine shouldn't be separate from anything else - we can learn all day long!

Good luck to you in your quest!  Cheers!

Reply by outthere, May 11, 2012.

Snickers, really? I love Snickers! ;-)


Reply by Richard Foxall, May 11, 2012.

Our sensory apparatus is pretty good at detecting a lot of things, but sorting them out is tricky, and wine is volatile enough that you can't expect two sips from your own glass to taste the same, so when someone next to me says they taste hazelnuts (which are a pretty strong and oily nut), it doesn't bother me too much that I don't.  There's also a lot of stuff that we "taste" in wine because we drink it but that is really smell. Like eucalyptus--you aren't going to eat much eucalyptus directly and it's use as a descriptor ignores certain traits of its taste in favor of its smell--it's more bitter eaten, less so smelled.  My opinion, anyway.  We've also already dealt with things "tasting" tar elsewhere--you just aren't going to eat tar, but you can "taste" it at the back of your throat because it provokes your body to produce mucus that then winds up back there with the aromas mixing in.  But that's different from tasting it in your front and midpalate as well as your rear palate, as you might with wine. 

I'm not sure how using a tasting strip also gets those tastes where you most detect them in normal experience, since the highly aromatic ones tend to show up closer to where the sinuses drain into the back of the throat.  Again, my opinion.

But here's my take on it:  Don't try to figure this out while you are tasting with tasting strips.  Build the vocabulary by really tasting everything you put in your mouth, whether it's food, a paper clip (metallic/aluminum?, the end of a nail (metallic:iron nickel-and yeah, my mother told me not to do that, but sometimes you are busy framing something and you don't have a nail gun), those diabetes test strips, the edge of the plastic bag you tear open with your teeth.  And smell things that you walk past and figure out where the smells are coming from.  I walk a mile on the most boring route to work every day, but I focus on the way certain plants smell depending on how warm it is, or try to notice how the smells changed when they cut back the branches from the shrubs.  Notice how the street smells after the rain. Notice how the streets smell different in different places--countries or neighborhoods. All this stuff winds up being more accessible because you really noticed it at the time.  (That plastic bag you tore?  You're going to eat something one day and notice that it tastes like that because it's been stored in plastic and plastic isn't stable.  Or it contains similar chemicals.  And that will be the end of your Snickers or whatever.)

This is basically just what GregT said, but I want to expand it to everything we smell and taste at any time. 

Then don't sweat it, just note the top few things when you drink the wine, store tasting notes somewhere, and when you drink the wine again (a good excuse to have favorite wines, Lefty, even if I have teased you about them), write more without looking too closely at what you wrote before.  See if it matches up--doesn't matter if it does or doesn't, because neither one was right or wrong, and the wine is changing all the time. 

Now, if you invent these tasting strips and get really rich doing so, buy a bunch of wine and post all the tasting notes for us to see. 

Reply by jamessulis, May 11, 2012.

To Foxall,

Enjoyed reading the fruit of your comments and also everyone elses. I take everything with a grain of salt (another taste). Most of the comments were very meaty.  I plan to continue to use my senses to determine what I enjoy best and catalog it. Thanks again fellow Snoothers, you're all the best that wine education has to offer. I plan to lighten up and if the smell and tastes come, so be it. 

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