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Is Wine An Acquired Taste?

On the heels of our recent blind panel tasting on the state of Chardonnay, a reader named Chaz posted a comment asking about the role of "acquired taste" as it applied to Chardonnay or "even wine in general." I found this to be a particularly relevant question, and since I realize that not everyone peruses the comments section of an article, I wanted to call it out in the Mailbag Responses section of the site. Below are Chaz's question, and my response:

Chaz's Question:

I'm wondering what the role of the "acquired taste" is when it comes to Chardonnay, or even wine in general. I'm definitely a wine newb in the grand scheme of things, so I don't think I have enough tasting experience under my belt to really discern between Chardonnays, blind or not. But for other varieties of things that some people have to come to "trust" (i.e. olives, tomatoes, etc.) I'm curious about how much your knowledge of wine affects your perception of the taste. Maybe if I'm looking for something specific in a Chardonnay and I pick up on it I'll get excited about it and appreciate it. I know tasting blind is fun insofar as the unique and honest reactions you get, but I don't necessarily have to know the price or the origin of the wine...just a little bit of direction on how to maneuver through the different layers of the flavors would be interesting for sure.

My Response:

Hi Chaz,

Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point. Wine is something of an acquired taste, and the longer you've been a wine consumer, the more you'll know what to expect from different types of wine. I often suggest to people that are new to wine, that they focus on remembering what particular types of wine taste and smell like as a whole, as opposed to picking apart the different components.

Using your example, if you tasted a tomato or an olive blind, you'd know that it was a tomato or olive, right? You might not know whether it was an heirloom tomato, a plum tomato, or a cherry tomato, but you'd probably be able to identify it as a tomato. Same with an olive. You could taste an olive blind, and not know whether it was a Kalamata, a Niçoise, or a Sicilian Green, but you'd probably be able to say, "Hey! This is an olive."

I'd recommend using the same approach for wines. There are several different styles of Chardonnay that are available, due to the fact that the grape is like a blank canvas, i.e. it will adapt to whatever technique the winemaker decides to apply to it. In the blind tasting mentioned in the article, I included a broad range of styles of Chardonnay, because I wanted to see if there was a particular style that resonated with the tasting panel. However, there is a particular character that is unique to Chardonnay, and I'd focus on learning to identify that first. Once you have that down, try wines made from other varietals, and learn to identify a Riesling, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot, a Syrah, etc.

In terms of navigating through the "layers of flavors," as you put it, there are aromas and flavors that each grape variety commonly expresses. In the case of Chardonnay, these aromas and flavors are influenced by where the grapes where grown, and how the wine was made (e.g. aged in oak, stainless steel, etc.).

Common aromas to look for in Chardonnay include: Citrus Fruit (Lemon, Orange peel), Apple, Pineapple, Melon, Tropical Fruit, Oak, Smokiness, Cinnamon, Spice, Vanilla, Butter, Cream/Dairy

Flavors common to Chardonnay include: Citrus, Lemon, Apple, Green Apple, Tropical Fruit, Melon, Oak, Vanilla, Cinnamon, Spice, Marshmallow, Toast, Brioche, Smokiness, Mineral, Earthiness

Hope this helps! If you're looking for an opportunity to taste a broad range of wines, sign up for one of our tasting panels, or inquire about a Wine Discovery Class.


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