Skip to content

Music Sounds Like Music

September 27, 2009

Honestly, wine tastes like wine.  It does.

Bet let’s not talk about wine for a minute.  Let’s talk about music, because everyone listens to music.  And as long as we are not talking about classical music, nobody will find this conversation threatening.

For the most part, music sounds like music.  You turn on the stereo, and yep, that’s music all right.  But given enough exposure to music, you can tell that this song is by The Beatles and some other song is by The Rolling Stones.  Occasionally you may encounter a song or two that gives you pause, and that you may misidentify (like As Tears Go By).  For the most part, though, it’s easy to do.

But even if you love the music, I’m guessing you would be hard pressed to sing the bass line of any given song without the music playing.  And even if the music were on, you would have to listen very carefully to pull out Sir Paul’s contribution to the music.

And so it is with wine.

With enough practice, you can pick up a glass of wine, take a sip, and say, “That’s a Chardonnay,” or “This is a Sauvignon Blanc.”  With more practice, you can say, “This is a California Chardonnay, and this Sauvignon Blanc is from New Zealand.”  Just like some people can tell you which album a song is from, or what is on the flip side of the single.  They are not smarter than you, they have just spent more time with the material.

I was thinking about this for two reasons.  First, there was this local video shot at the Albany Wine Bar, which really rubbed me the wrong way.  Second, I received the following comment from Tonia:

I’m so in the ‘Wine for Dummies’ phase, so I will appreciate anything you post on this topic. I pretty much know the flavors I like, but not how to describe/ask for them and how to know what to order out/purchase, or, sometimes what to pair with what. For example, I wouldn’t know that a pesto would overpower certain wines (while purchasing it), but at home, I’d know it just tasted wrong. Like I love the Torrentes grape, but how would I know another type that tastes similarly?

I think a lot of people are like this, but don’t want to own up to. So I’ll just put myself out there.

We salute bravery here at the FUSSYlittleBLOG, so here is to you, Tonia, for putting yourself out there.

Pulling flavors out of a wine is a bit more complex than being able to pull the baseline out of a Beatles tune, mostly because there are more than four things going on inside the glass.  It is more like listening to a symphony and being able to isolate the contributions of the viola, the flute and the French horn while blindfolded.  Really, anyone can do it.  But it takes a lot of concentration and practice.

Luckily for you, if you are interested in practicing, it means you will need to drink a lot of wine.  In moderation, of course, but also drinking mindfully.  There is an inexpensive tool available that will help you figure out what you are tasting and smelling.
It’s called the Wine Aroma Wheel.  And like all good things involving wine it is brought to us by the venerable faculty at UC Davis.

The wheel breaks down all of the different smells and tastes into three tiers from general to specific.  So, while you may not be able to discern the scent of grapefruit right off the bat, you probably can tell the wine smells fruity.  The wine wheel helps suggest different types of fruit from berry, to citrus, to tropical, etc.  If citrus is closest to what is coming out of the glass, the wheel offers grapefruit or lemon.  Maybe it’s one of these, or maybe tangerine or lime, or perhaps now that you think about it, tropical fruit is a better descriptor.  These are just starting places for the most common wine aromas, designed to provide a launchpad for your mind to begin working with your nose.

You can get a sense of what the wheel looks like here but really, if you are serious about trying to build this skill, it costs less than $7 to get one of your own.  And it comes with some additional handy-dandy information about wine.  You can do that here.

Pairings are another matter entirely.  As is finding wines similar to the ones you enjoy.  Both of these are also learned skills.  But in the meantime, if you find a retailer you trust, they can help navigate you through these desires.

(Just so Tonia is not left hanging, if you like Torrentes, one good strategy would be to look to grapes that come from the same family, in this case Malvasia, for wines with similar taste profiles.  Wines from the Malvasia family are often described as golden, perfumy, flavorful wines with hints of apricots, musk and almonds.)

Yet I do realize that it is difficult to talk comfortably with wine retailers if you feel you lack the words to communicate effectively.  I know I did for a few years at the beginning of my wine journey.  The first time I walked into a serious wine store myself, I quite literally broke into a cold sweat.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  The wine aroma wheel should be a big help.

Keep the questions coming.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2009 4:07 pm

    I’ve definitely learned that the flavor descriptors on the back won’t be overwhelmingly that flavor, but a good indication of what I’ll like. For example, “Oaky” and me just don’t get along, but “berry” will generally be okay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: