Why no
May 8, 2009 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Why the heck can't I tell the difference apart when it comes to drinking red wines?

I mean I can sort of tell the tastes apart, but after four months of 2-3 glasses three times a week (each night is the same type of wine from one bottle), I still can't tell what I like! I drink them with an older French coworker/boss/it's complicated that's why this is anonymous whose family comes from a line of wine makers whose grandfather would teach him about wine like how to throw a basketball or ride a bike... so obviously he knows what he's drinking. I've had the usual suspects of merlot, bordeaux, burgandy, Cabernet Sauvignon but I REALLY can't tell what's good or bad wine and what makes these all taste different! Help?! Am I hopeless cause maybe I just don't have distinct tastebuds for this or I'm just another uncultured American?

Also, what does it mean if someone says I'm more of a 'bordeaux' kind of a girl in terms of types of wine? Like you can non-scientifically define or stereotype a person according to the type of red wine they seemingly prefer like hard alcohol?
posted by anonymous to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The trick is to taste different wines in the same sitting, rather than drinking from the same bottle on separate occasions. I'm sure you could find a friendly bartender at a wine bar who'd be happy to let you taste several different wines and help explain the similarities and differences. Go to a wine bar sometime when it's not busy and explain your predicament. Most folks who really love wine are happy to share their info. Tip well!

As to your second question, I don't know if you can stereotype people based on the kind of wines or liquors they like, but it's definitely fun to guess what people's tastes will be based on their personalities. Sometimes you're right, sometimes you're not.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:14 AM on May 8, 2009

Maybe you like them all?
posted by zephyr_words at 9:15 AM on May 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

You've given it a good try. One way of viewing this is that you're a failure. Another way is that you've found a wonderful way to conserve money.

Do not make the assumption, by the way, that refining your powers of discernment will increase the pleasure you extract from drinking wine, even holding cost considerations aside. Sophistication isn't necessarily a virtue.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:21 AM on May 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

I still can't tell what I like!

I took a proper wine-tasting course and one key lesson I recall is that judging wines is not about what you like and don't like. You can identify an expensive vintage you hate while preferring to chug away happily on the cheapest bottle in the store.

Like solipsophistocracy said, the key is to compare one wine to another. Have 3 glasses of 3 different merlots, or to start simply have 3 glasses of three different reds to make the differences more noticeable.
posted by Adam_S at 9:24 AM on May 8, 2009

You can scientifically stereotype a person by what kinds of alcohols they prefer as far as making an educated guess as to what kinds of wines they will like.

A person who like scotch is more likely to like a hot red. A person who like candy drinks is more likely to like a white, etc.

I used to drink a lot more wine than I do now, and I agree with solipsophistocracy. You need to compare several wines at a time.

Many wine stores will have a tasting area, and taking a class is another great way to isolate what you like.

I won't call my tastes refined, but the wines I tend to like are highly flawed with a lot of character. I also like them to have a high alcohol content.

Once you know what the characteristic of a set wine is, you can start to decide it you like that. I hate wines that are "buttery," but until you know what that means you won't know to seek these out (or avoid them).
posted by cjorgensen at 9:30 AM on May 8, 2009

You might be an undertaster, in that your taste buds might not respond to the differences in wine flavor.

Or you might not have a context in which to frame your taste experiences. Some people have good luck with using wine essence and wine bouquet kits, which isolate the different flavor components people discuss in wine.

And I'm nth-ing the folks who said "knowing a lot about wine doesn't necessarily influence what you like." I have the Higher Wine Certificate, and there are a lot of very fancy, currently critically-popular wines I don't enjoy at all, and a lot of cheap plonk I adore.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2009

I drink them with an older French coworker/boss/it's complicated that's why this is anonymous whose family comes from a line of wine makers...Also, what does it mean if someone says I'm more of a 'bordeaux' kind of a girl in terms of types of wine?

a) Don't sleep with your boss. It almost always ends in tears.

b) "You're this kind of wine" is just a {pickup} line.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2009 [8 favorites]

Can I add some advice, premised on the anon. way you've posed the question? If I were you, I would be very up front about your inability to make distinctions. Better that he writes you off as an amusing failure in this regard -- someone who just has no taste -- than someone who tries to finesse it or pass herself off as having taste.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is true that a 'good' quality wine and knowing what to look for is one thing, while a wine one likes is another thing. Unless there is a significant reason you need to develop the first, relax and just try the second.

For that, I suggest a wine tasting series. If you live in a place that has vinyards - I live in Connecticut and we do, although frankly, they're kind of crap - you can do these for approx $5-7 a sit, for several wines.

What generally happens is that they give you a list with the stock 'wine-speak' descriptions and then serve the wine. Sometimes there is discussion, other times, they leave you alone. I've gone in groups and hit up several locations per lazy Sunday. Going through the wines with the lists and descriptions has helped me learn which wine-speak words are associated with things I like (smoky, sure!) and which with things I dislike (ew, peach.) This has since given me a better chance of buying a wine I like when I'm at the store and can't try before I buy.

unfortunately for my wallet, I also learned I like port.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:51 AM on May 8, 2009

You have probably been drinking a lot of good wine, which is why you like them all. I might be able to recommend some bad wines where you can tell easily in side-by-side taste tests which is better.

I think you really have to drink more than one wine at a time to begin to discern wines. solipsophistocracy and cjorgensen give great advice. You have to switch between bottles and do side-by-side comparisons. Go to a wine tasting. Every wine store has wine tastings. The sommeliers can show you what to look for, and how to discern flavors in wine. Start with comparing a merlot to a cabernet, or a pinot noir with a syrah or a zinfandel. Then move on to comparing similar reds side-by-side.

Also, not mentioned yet, is that it often helps to eat different kinds of food while drinking wine - you will remember wines that go well with roquefort, strawberries or lamb shank.

You are not an uncultured American, but 4 months of drinking wines does not a wine-expert make. Practice makes perfect, and lord knows that this is a fun thing to practice.

It is not a bad thing to be considered a bordeaux girl, but I think that it's like saying you are vanilla. Does anybody else have a take on what that might mean?
posted by jabberjaw at 9:58 AM on May 8, 2009

First of all, how are you tasting the wine? To get the most out of a wine, you swirl it around in the glass, look at its color; sniff it; and then take a sip. Then you swirl the sip around in your mouth -- really suck it back and forth over the areas of your tongue. And then after you've swallowed it, taste what's left in your mouth.

Second, drink in threes. Many wine bars will sell you trios of 2 oz each. You could get a trio of, say, a cabernet, a merlot and a pinot noir. Or A 2008 zinfandel, a 2006 zinfandel and a 2004 zinfandel. The idea is to compare and contrast.

You can easily do a wine tasting at home. Get some friends over, buy a few bottles, some bread and maybe some cheese, and everybody drinks 2 oz of each wine. And discuss them. This is a really fun, not very expensive way to have a party.
posted by musofire at 9:58 AM on May 8, 2009

anonymous: four months of 2-3 glasses three times a week

It took me much longer than this, and I'm still far from an expert. I think part of what you need to do is to keep coming back to a specific bottle over and over- pick one you like, keep drinking it, and see if you can eventually identify specific characteristics. Then try a different bottle from the same varietal/region, and see if you can tell what's different.

Also, for the time being, forget about "hints of blackberry and pencil shavings", start with the general ones- with red wine, you can do a lot with the basics:

- Is it full of flavor or light?
- Does it have a distinct fruit flavor, or is it dry/"earthy"?
- Does the taste linger for a long time, or finish quickly ("racy")?
posted by mkultra at 10:06 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need to go to a wine bar or a restaurant that serves "flights" of wine - three or more glasses of a certain type of wine. I was at City Winery in NYC recently and had a flight of dry Spanish whites and was amazed at how very different they all were.
(I'm a Burgundy girl - that distinction does mean something to me, though I can see how it would be a cheesy pickup line, too.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2009

Maybe because you lack bravado?

Apparently experts can't necessarily taste the difference between red and white wine, or cheap and expensive wine.

And some of them are... French!
posted by Salamandrous at 10:45 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding something like Wine Essence. When I was learning about wine, our sommelier had us smell different jams; black currant, red currant, cherry, blackberry... in order to help pick up the different flavor components. Something I like to recommend to new wine drinkers is Gary Vanerchuck's video on training your palate. It's a little silly, but it's entertaining and makes you think about the flavors in the wine. Also, tasting different wines at the same sitting really helps you differentiate what you like/dislike about them. There are several books about how to taste/compare wines, Jancis Robinson has one. I can't remember the one I'm thinking of, but each chapter compares two similar, but different wines. The format is that you and some friends sit around drinking and comparing the wines. It doesn't have be snooty or pretentious. The biggest piece of advice I give to employees wanting to learn about wine is to drink a lot of wine (maybe not all at once) in order to see what you like.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:29 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're not alone!
posted by themadjuggler at 11:36 AM on May 8, 2009

You may have a weak sense of smell, which severely impairs your wine-snob potential. I do, and it also impairs my any-kind-of-food-snob potential.
posted by tmcw at 12:28 PM on May 8, 2009

You might be a "non-taster", which is a normal variation among people, but it means you don't distinguish flavors as well as others. I've got the opposite problem, and thus all wine tastes sour and undrinkable to me unless it's a dessert variety.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:47 PM on May 8, 2009

@ Salamandrous: That article is hogwash.
posted by stratastar at 1:35 PM on May 8, 2009

Are you eating anything when you're drinking? You could easily be masking flavors by, say, eating a bunch of crackers or a cream-based pasta sauce with the wine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:07 PM on May 8, 2009

There are exactly two types of wine in the world: Wines you like and wines you don't like. You are fortunate to only be drinking the first type :)

n-thing the "taste different wines in one sitting... order a flight if you can"

But... if you want to really taste the difference between varietals, you can start with varietals that are fairly far apart. It sounds like you've mostly been drinking fairly bold French reds. Throw a Beaujolais or Beaujolais Nouveau into that mix (which should be much lighter and fruiter... and usually less complicated)

If you like the big bold taste of the wine you've been drinking, and want to try an entirely different type of big bold wine, try a $20-30 bottle of Zinfandel from the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys in California. (This has no relation to the $3 pink junk that gives a bad name to both Zin and pink wine.) Some labels to look for: Hawley, Fife, Green and Red, or Redemption.

Few people would confuse any of those with a French wine -- California Zins are sort of the loud, brash cousin that crashes the parties thrown by a refined Bordeaux... but a lot of people who like big Cabernets and Burgundies have a soft spot for these grapes, too.

And if you taste them back to back, I'll bet you can tell them apart quite easily.
posted by toxic at 5:15 PM on May 8, 2009

Another thing to bear in mind is that good wine isn't supposed to taste nice; good wine is supposed to taste interesting.

Good wine takes your palate on a little walk through a garden of flavours and scents, and really good wine makes it stop at lots of different places along the way.

Appreciating good wine is about learning to put aside the immediate gratification of a "this is nice/this is nasty" judgement, and instead learning to savour, appreciate and enjoy the journey.

Appreciating a good wine is absolutely not going to stop you enjoying things you already enjoy. It may, however, give you ideas about more ways to enjoy those things.
posted by flabdablet at 5:45 PM on May 8, 2009

Three things come to my mind quickly (apart from 'don't sleep with your boss') :

1- you might just really like wine. You may enjoy many different red wines, and thus have a hard time differentiating between them because you have no real negatives to compare.

2- you might just not like wine. Lots of people feel like they ought to like wine, so they spend all kinds of effort working on it, but they never really enjoyed it. That's fine, some people don't especially like some things. I could make a long list of alcoholic beverages I would prefer, personally, to red wine.

3- you might just be drinking this wine, not actually tasting it. Several people have mentioned, there is a significant difference between noticing the little things, and savoring the aroma, and the whole ritual there, and just drinking some.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:14 PM on May 8, 2009

Part of the problem is that you're drinking both wines identified by the type of grape used to make the wine (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon) and those identified by the region where they're produced (Bordeaux, Burgundy).

If you want to learn to identify them better, it's easier to start with varietals (those produced from a single type of grape) and learn the differences between those. Most wines produces outside of Europe (U.S., Australia, New Zealand, South America) are identified by the type of grape they're made from. You might, for example, pick up an inexpensive Californian Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon and compare those. Don't worry so much about the differences within a variety (a Californian Pinot Noir versus an Australian Pinot Noir, for example), as those are much more subtle and harder to pick up on.

Once you've got a bit of a handle on that, it's a matter of learning which varieties named for regions come from which grapes. Burgundies are produced primarily from Pinot Noir grapes, so they should taste similar to other Pinot Noirs. Bordeauxs are blends of several types, but primarly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I can't promise you'll ever be able to tell a Burgundy from an American Pinot Noir, but with practice most people can learn to tell a Pinot Noir from a Cabernet Sauvignon, for example.

Great Wine Made Simple is an excellent introductory book which takes you through the major varietals of wine and some of the major flavor components commonly found in wine, if you're interested.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:09 PM on May 10, 2009

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