16 Jun Get to Know Your Palate, Start Drinking Academically
Everyone has their go-to wine, that tried and true that’s never a letdown. However, there are thousands of different grapes and a multitude of styles made around the world. From both warm and cool climates and produced in an array of varying winemaking practises, no matter if you are a fan of red, white, rose, or sparkling wine. Get to know yourself by exploring your palate for wine. Not only do you get to dive deep into your own personal taste, but there are so many wines to try in the process, it is truly an experience in academic drinking.
Understanding the basics of wine structure is a big help if you are expanding your palate. Five characteristics break down the structure of wine; Acidity, Tannin, Sweetness, Alcohol and Body.
Acidity is the sensed tartness in wine, acidity keeps up the freshness and adds to the crisp feel of the wine style. You experience acidity as tingling on the tongue, and by how much you salivate, the more you are salivating the more acidity a wine has.
Tannin is expressed by bitterness and astringency. However, it is an interesting point of wine structure because it is not only a flavour but a feeling. Tannins in wine can be experienced by the bitter sensory area on your tongue, but they also form that mouth drying feeling.
Sweetness, although fruit notes can play into the perceptions of sweetness in wine, sweetness refers to the levels of sugar. When a wine has a low sugar level, it is a dry wine. However, with a little more sweetness, the wine is referred to as off-dry, and with a lot more, the wine can be full-on sweet. Sweetness in wine shows up on the tip of your tongue, giving a more round texture and lingering sweet taste.
Alcohol is a wine’s level of booziness. Making you feel physically warmer and can range from as little as 5.5% to 20% ABV. It also adds to the perceived body of a wine, making the wine feel fuller or lighter depending on its level of alcohol.
Body is a combination of several different factors. It is a description of how full the wine is. Body is the sum of the amount of alcohol in a wine, the grape(s) chosen, how the wine was made and where it was made. These factors can make a wine lighter, medium or full-bodied.
Understanding these five elements makes it easier to describe which wines you love to drink and which you could really do without. It is clear to see why your go-to wine is such a favourite, but now that you know what you like trying, similar wines wouldn’t be a massive leap out of the comfort zone. Chances are if you enjoy your favourite wine because it is bold, with low tannins and fruit-forward, you will most likely appreciate a different wine with a similar structure. Let’s dive into some classic red and white wine favourites!
The Cali Cab Lover
Big and bold Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons are characterized by their full-body, elevated alcohol, elevated tannins, moderate acidity, and, although they are dry, they are filled with ripe fruit notes. Often aged in oak, giving this wine style aromas of vanilla and smoke, with black fruit notes, and a soft, inviting spices.
If you are a fan of big and bold reds like this Napa classic, try a bottle of Rioja, Amarone, Pinotage or Shiraz. From Spain, Rioja is bold and oaked, Gran Reservas are also delicious without breaking the bank. Amarone, often bolder than a Cali Cab if filled with dried fruit notes and leather spices. Pinotage is bold and smooth with its dark fruit and umami flavours, and Australian Shiraz with its ripe blue fruit notes, peppered spiced and rich flavours are ideal options for changing it up.
The Brunello Sophisticate
Savoury and dynamic Brunello di Montalcino is characterized by a medium to full body, elevated alcohol, high tannins, high acidity, and the classic bone-dry finish. Traditional style Brunello is marked by bold floral, red fruit and spice aromas, with savoury spices and earthy notes.
Lovers of spice and lower fruit notes like Brunello can change it up with a bottle of Barolo, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, or Bordeaux. Just north of Montalcino, Barolo made with the Nebbiolo grape is highly aromatic and earthy on the palate. Cabernet Franc from The Loire Valley, France leans more medium in body but have a great balance between light dark fruit notes and earthy minerality. Northern Rhône Syrah is characterized by herbaceous, peppery and meaty notes, and Bordeaux wines have aromatics of dark fruits with veg and exotic spice notes on the palate.
The Merlot Good-timer
Associated with soft fruit notes, New World Merlot is marked by its Medium body, moderate to elevated alcohol, mild tannins, lower acidity. Although being dry, there are often filled ripe fruit notes. Merlots are boisterous, filled with red and black fruit notes, little spice notes and a smooth finish.
If fruit-forward wine like New World Merlots is your jam, then take a small step out of your comfort zone with Grenache, Zinfandel, Malbec, or Californian Pinot Noirs. Australian Grenache is ripe and juicy, with cooked red fruit notes and soft savoury spices. Zinfandels are bold and approachable with their jammy bramble berry note and hints of mocha. Malbec from Mendoza characterized ripe, lush fruit notes, floral aromas, and soft spices are easy drinking and expressive. Finally, Pinot Noirs from Cali are bolder than their French counterparts, often aged in oak with vanilla spice notes, soft red fruits and smooth finishes.
The Pinot Noir Connoisseur
Elegant and aroma Burgundy Pinot Noirs are typified by a light body, moderate alcohol, low tannins, elevated acidity, and are dry in style. They are marked by immense floral and earth driven aromas, often described as ethereal and lifted. They may be light, but Pinot Noir is a complex wine.
Lovers of elegant and thoughtful Pinot Noirs from Burgundy can change it up with a bottle of Etna Rosso, Chianti, Beaujolais, or Valpolicella Classico. Etna Rossos are volcanic earth driven wines with notes of wild strawberry and aromas of sweet cherry. Made from Gamay Noir Beaujolais, they have great minerality, floral and candied aromatics, with tart red fruit notes. Last but not least, Valpolicella Classico is light and lifted, with notes of cherry, soft spices and dark chocolate.
The Chardonnay Socialite
Buttery and round oak-aged Chardonnay from Sonoma are marked by a full-body, elevated alcohol, a slight tannin level due to oak ageing, moderate acidity, and are dry with some ripe fruit notes. They are bold and filled with tree fruit notes, ripe citrus flavours, with hints of nuttiness and vanilla from oak usage.
If bolder white wines like Chardonnay are for you, try a bottle of Burgundian Chardonnay, South African Chenin Blanc, or Viognier. Burgundian Chardonnays are also aged in oak, showing tree fruit notes as well with a touch more minerality and floral aromas. South African Chenin Blanc is a delight with its pear and honeysuckle notes and bright finish and soft spices. Viognier from Northern Rhône is bold and lush with stone fruit notes, floral aromatics, jasmine spices, and round texture.
The Sauvignon Blanc Aficionado
Aromatic and herbaceous New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is characterized by its light body, moderate alcohol, light minerality, high acidity and dry finish. This wine is lean and crisp, filled with intense aromas of gooseberry, tropical fruits and green herbaceous notes.
Fans of crisp and lean Sauvignon Blancs in for changing it up should try a bottle of Gruner Veltliner, Sancerre, or White Bordeaux. Grüner Veltliner from Austria is bright and mineral-driven, with notes of citrus and ripe stone fruit, and green herbs. Sancerre from the Loire Valley France is made entirely with Sauv Blanc, it is leaner but fuller than the New Zealand style with tart tree fruits, high minerality and green veg notes. White Bordeaux has a boldness, with grapefruit citrus notes, ginger, and green herbs.
The Pinto Grigio Lover
Easy going and understandable Pinot Grigio from Italy is marked by its light body, moderate alcohol, minerality, elevated acidity and very dry finish. This wine style is not too intense, it is bright and easy-drinking with white flower, citrus and white peach notes.
If you are a lover of Italian Pinot Grigio, try a bottle of Muscadet, Chablis, or Albariño. Muscadet from the Sèvre-et-Maine region of France is a crisp and relaxed style of wine, with tart citrus and tree fruit notes, white flowers and a high minerality. Chablis, although made from Chardonnay, doesn’t taste like it Burgundian or Californian counterparts. Chablis is it bright and refreshing, filled with minerality and unimposing tree fruit notes and a lean finish. Albariño from Spain is lifted and easy drinking with notes of ripe citrus, white peach and a seaside minerality.
The Riesling Sweetheart
Bright and fruity Rieslings from Germany are characterized by their upper light body, low alcohol, high minerality, high acidity and an off-dry finish. They are marked by tree and stone fruit notes, with hints of honey and a lingering sweet finish.
Lovers of off-dry Rieslings can change it up without stepping too far out of the comfort zone with Gewürztraminer, Vouvray, or Moscato. Alsatian Gewurztraminer is also off-dry but can be made in dry styles, and filled with notes of rose, lychee, and soft spices. Vouvray is made with Chenin Blanc. It is softly sweet with notes of overripe apple, orange blossoms and a smooth finish. Lightly sparkling Moscato from Northern Italy is not a fully sparkling wine, this wine is excellent if you enjoy sweeter styles. It is highly aromatic, with soft apple and orange notes and a bright, clean finish.
Dive deeper into the world of wine and try something new. With this road map, I guarantee you will find more styles that you genuinely enjoy.