Tasting is both simple and highly complex. A child can do it (I’m not talking about wine, obviously), and yet it’s a vast subject whose intricacies could fill many books.
So how do you go about getting the most out of your wine glass? I’ve talked to some of the world’s best tasters to discuss the tactics that they use when assessing, or just enjoying, a wine.
Professional athletes are keenly aware of what affects their form. Wine tasters – especially those on the buying and writing side of the fence – are more likely to promote the myth of the infallible palate (theirs, naturally). Happily, that conversation is now changing as we learn more about our olfactory and taste systems.
‘The wine taster’s instrument is not only the nose but the entire body,’ says Ann-Sophie Barwich, a cognitive scientist, empirical philosopher and the author of Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind (£28.95, Harvard University Press, 2020). ‘The expert nose measures the volatiles in the wine, while their sensation is an expression also of the constitution of the taster. Mood, expectations, fatigue… all of that mediates the qualitative experience of a wine.’
What can we do about our physical and emotional inconsistencies and the impact they have on the tasting experience? Be aware of it, for a start. Work to minimise variations rather than ignoring them, and exploit the times when we’re on peak form.
Most wine tasters say they perform best in the morning. Jacques Polge, head perfumer at Chanel from 1978 to 2015, told me he found the same and deliberately assigned ‘important’ smell tasks to the first part of the day.