Wine Talk

Snooth User: jamessulis

Various wine flavors

Posted by jamessulis, Apr 7, 2010.

Here's an interesting queston to ponder,

How can one teach themselves the various flavors wines give off to the palate?

The other day, I opened a Merlot, the Winery said it has tastes of Blackberry, plum and smoked meat.

I drank, savored, thought and I tasted the Blackberry, I think I tasted the plum but was I swayed by the label description?  Dunno.  Next came the smoked meat and as hard as I tried to coax my left cerebral hemisphere into it, no smoked meat flavor.

Do I need a coach?

Lefty-The Great Pacific Northwest



Reply by GregT, Apr 7, 2010.

Nope.  I think there are 2 basic observations to be made.

1.  Some people just make up their tasting notes in whole or part based on what they think they're supposed to taste.  I've been with people who write a half page about everything they supposedly discern, and I sure don't pick up all those things.  It also makes me suspicious when I see them write down six or seven words at the tasting and then see half a page later on after they've gone home and  somehow "remembered" all those things.  Bottom line - a lot of people, wine writers especially, are full of crap.

2.  Some people just don't taste all the stuff that other people do, or they do taste it but don't know the words to put to it.  That's fine actually.  I remember the first time I tasted something that reminded me of pencil shavings.  "Son of a gun," I thought, "such a flavor really does exist in wine."  Now I can pick it up sometimes but until then, I was certainly tasting it but just hadn't been struck by the notion that it was pencil shavings.

That flavor of smoked meat or bacon or meat is something that you pick up from time to time in certain wines, particularly from the Rhone although I've had it in some from CA.  It's often something I find with syrah, but it's also a classic way to distinguish the Ribera de Duero if you're tasting wines blind and need a hint.

If you want an example of it, try Sixth Sense Syrah, from Michael David winery in Lodi. At least the vintage I just had recently.  I kind of doubt that your merlot had it to the same degree.

Reply by dmcker, Apr 7, 2010.

Greg, you may be being a little harsh with your point 1). In any number of contexts, wine being the least of them, I write short, cryptic notes to myself to help recall events and impressions later, when I have the time to collect myself and formulate much fuller prose accounts of a particular event. Sometimes dozen of pages of text generated from a single page of notes. That's more or less long-term memory with a smattering of short. You should see the notes simultaneous and especially consecutive interpreters write to themselves to help with short term memory and their translated regurgitations (which most of them proceed to dump from memory as soon as they can).

All of your points deserve response, and Lefty your question is a very good one that has been addressed several times in the Forum over the past year. I have to run to right now so can't properly respond. Perhaps later if I come back and the thread has gained some legs... ;-)

Reply by zufrieden, Apr 7, 2010.

No lefty, you don't need a coach.  Sometimes, expressing the taste and smell can take a bit of practice (assuming everything is on the level and you're not consciously parroting the gibbering of wine reviewers in some third-rate newspapers).  But unless you have good reason to think your buds and olfactory bulb are defective, I think you can trust your senses.

Where the expertise might be of help, though, is in the opening, pouring and examining of the wine for taste, bouquet and appearance. But following this, you are the judge and must base your descriptions - whether inwardly or outwardly expressed - on your own experience with that sensual environment out there.

Calling to mind the taste of a particular fruit, the smell of burning Virginia cigarettes, pencil shavings - HB of course - or a host of other impressions taken in by the senses may pose the biggest problem for most people.  In such cases, there are aroma kits to help you (I don't own one, but maybe I should).

So, no coach needed.  Instead, try drinking a wide variety of wines - preferably in social settings - to see whether your impressions coincide in any way with those of other persons similarly interested in wines. You can get quite a few "a-ha" moments in these situations and ultimately, they can provide more fun. 

Reply by brinko99, Apr 8, 2010.

I have been really focusing on developing my palate in the last year.  I was convinced that a lifetime of spicy food had destroyed my taste buds.  But slowly and surely the smells and tastes that I had so long read about started to come to me. 

In fact I finally tasted my first barnyard / manure styled wine: Podio Pardino.

I've learned two important lessons in smelling and tasting wines lately.

1) Atmosphere, bias and concentration have a big influence.  For example, if I'm roasting some meat in the house and try to do a tasting... the wine smells and tastes like roasted meat.  And it's much more subtle than this too.  

The atmosphere in your house or restaurant will influence you even if there are no obvious smells around.  Lately, I've been taking my glass outside to do a proper tasting.  This makes a huge difference and suddenly the wine opens up tremendously.  Plus I'm able to really take my time and focus.  

Though learning this lesson in a Colorado winter was't ideal.

2) I've discovered glass-taint.  Sometimes a dirty glass or oil from your food left on the glass will affect your perception, but that's not what I mean here.  I've found that after drinking a couple of glasses of the same wine, the character of the wine will change.  Usually for the worse.  I believe that as you drink the wine and swirl, wine is drying around the sides and edges of the glass.  This dried wine has a distinct smell and throws off the wine.  If you do tasting after having already drunk a bit, change or wash your glass! 

-- Terrence (




Reply by GregT, Apr 8, 2010.

D - OK.  I'll give you that.  I have a little code that I use.  I generally write things in the order I notice them.  If I put a period, anything after that is what strikes me on tasting a second or third time. And if I repeat something or underline it, that's something very dominant.  I understand my own code and I can translate that into words.  It's the only way to get through fifty or sixty or more wines at a time.

I had in mind certain specific people when I wrote what I did however, and in their cases, I'll stand by what I said  I really don't think they pick up half of what they claim to, and they're certainly not able to do it repeatedly unless they know the label.

In any event, the point for James was that it's completely unimportant whether one can wax poetic over a glass of wine.  What's important is that one enjoys it without making it over-complicated. 

We eat and drink so many things and just come to them naturally.  Eventually, even if we're eating with blindfolds, we know whether we're eating an orange or a peach, a lamb chop or a chicken leg, a cookie or a pickle.  Somehow we don't write tasting notes about most of those things, but if we were to try doing so, it would be just as complicated as writing about wine.  At the same time we develop a taste memory of these things.  Wine isn't more difficult or more special, so I think James will be fine. In time, as he drinks more wine, he develops a taste memory so that at some point he'll say - "that tastes like some kind of Tuscan concoction," and sure enough, it will be the Chianti.

And if he thinks about it or if someone points out the flavors, he'll get the words for that.  I think what he did is just fine - he tried to discern what the writer of the tasting note claimed to discern and he didn't find everything.  Which is a perfect illustration of the value of tasting notes in general.

Terrence brings up something else that's important too.  It's possible to distance yourself a bit from some aromas - e.g. the flavor of meat in a wine is a bit different from that of the roast in the oven, but it's very true that odors can really affect your taste.  It's why it makes me crazy when women wear perfume to wine events, or use scented hand lotions.  Sometimes guys do this as well, but more often it's a woman who just doesn't know any better and as a result all your wine tastes like soap.  Floor cleaner, candles, lemon-scented Pledge, and even strongly-scented flowers like lillies also affect your ability to taste.

Regarding glass taint - it's an overlooked issue and it's huge.  Sometimes glasses have a musty aroma and sometimes they really stink with a sharp offensive odor that comes from stale varnish/wood/whatever. 

It's why I never understood the practice some people have of taking their own glasses to a BYO restaurant in cardboard boxes or tubes, and unloading them and drinking out of them.  If they're so discerning that the glass matters so much, surely they're able to pick up the cardboard flavors? 

Which seems like it gets us right back to my original point number 1! 

Tell me that's not nice and tidy!


Reply by outthere, Apr 20, 2010.

OK, I had a wine the other day, a new 2008 bottling of PS from a winery that hadn't had one before. I popped it to give it a try and the nose was overwhelmingly mens bathroom urinal. For the life of me I could not get that out of my mind each time I gave it a sniff. I let the darn thing sit in the glass for over an hour and the smell did not blow off. I would hate to leave "Mensroom Urinal" as the nose in a note or in a correspondence to the winery. Have any insight on this dilemma?

Reply by brinko99, Apr 20, 2010.

Mensroom urinal?  Hmm.  Some wines are a bit vinegary and I suppose that could lead to some interesting comparisons.

Did it smell like a urinal cake by chance?  I have heard that term on occasion to describe a wine.  Here are a couple of examples:

...was uncannily and rather unfortunately reminiscent of urinal cake.

The above is describing a 1989 Château Latour! grounds and ashtray with a hint of urinal cake.

This one is talking about Chinese Cab Sauv...


-- Terrence (

Reply by outthere, Apr 21, 2010.

The urinal cake thing did cross my mind but the more I smelled the wine the more it smelled like a dirty cake if you get my drift.

I recorked the wine and put it in the fridge for the weekend. I opened it back up last night and poured another taste. The nose is still there but not as pronounced. Perhaps tonight I will decant again and give it more air and see where it goes from there.

The flavor isn't off but when you start with a weird nose it just ruins the whole experience.

Sorry to have hijacked your thread jamessulis.

Reply by jamessulis, Apr 21, 2010.

No problem "outthere", sometimes the swing changes direction.

My comment would be that when you buy something that is very wrong, take it back to the store and get your money back.

Have you considered it was a disgruntled employee at the bottle filling station?


The Great Pacific Northwest



Reply by outthere, Apr 21, 2010.

"Have you considered it was a disgruntled employee at the bottle filling station?

I'd really rather not if you know what I mean. The bottle came direct from the winery. I want to give them some feedback but will give the wine another chance before I crucify it. Thanks!

Reply by GregT, Apr 22, 2010.

Outthere - call it menthol.  That way people will like it.  If you call it urinal cake, only freaks will like it.  I hate it either way.  But urinal cake is a brilliant description AFAIC and you should be proud of yourself for making the connection.

Although it's not the first thing that would come to everyone's mind...

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