Calling on all lovers of wine that want to get better at tasting wine and understand the spectrum of wine that is out there. Or if you are wondering how to get into wine, this article is for you. We will introduce some wines that will help you train your palate.

We can all drink wine, but not all can say that they know how to taste for particular characteristics in wine. Let’s explore some varietals to get you into the wine lifestyle and transform you from being a wine drinker to a wine taster. This will be the first step into becoming a wine connoisseur.

Here are 6 common grape varietals to start your journey into learning how to pick out specific characters in wine. These wines cover the basic and most obvious aromas and flavours. Once you have identified these, you will be able to carry this knowledge through and apply it to all the wines that you taste in the future.

Let's get started!

White Wines

White Wines To Train Your Palate

White wine pairs well with seafood, we have all heard it before. This is because white wines generally are higher in acidity and the flavour profile will mirror ingredients that are used to accompany seafood dishes. Think, lemon and light herbs like fennel. Some whites have a gentler structure, therefore will not over power delicate fish and shellfish textures and flavours.

However, it would be wrong to assume that all whites are watery lemon drinks. There is a category of wines that fall under aromatics, the name is pretty self-explanatory. These wines have very perfumed aromas often dominated by florals and very ripe or tropical fruits.

Here are 3 types of white wines to train your nose and palate on specific aromatic groups. These wines all have one thing in common, they have unmistakable characteristics that make them very easy to identify.  

 

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc Aromas & Flavours

Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that has a sharp flavour that makes it very easily identifiable. The light colour, high acidity, paired with aromas of citrus and herbaceous characters is the signature of Sauvignon Blanc. It is the perfect example of a white wine that is made to be consumed with seafood.

Use Sauvignon Blanc to train your nose and palate on citrus, tropical fruit and green characters. All of those flavours are intense and easily detectable.

Colour

Pale straw yellow, can have a hint of lime green

Nose

Citrus (lime, grapefruit), green apple, tropical fruits (passion fruit, pineapple), freshly cut grass, capsicum, blackcurrant leaf

Palate

High acid, light bodied, dry style

Similar varietals: Verdejo, Albariño, and Grüner Veltliner

Food pairings: The high acidity and citrus backbone of Sauvignon blanc plays well with light fish dishes cooked with a herb and lemon sauce. This wine is also good with fresh Thai and Mexican dishes that have lime, coriander and a touch of chilli. Salads with goat’s cheese and a zippy vinaigrette also match well with Sauvignon Blanc.

 

Gewürztraminer

Gewurztraminer Aromas & Flavours 

Gewürztraminer, also known as the king of aromatics. It’s a great beginners wine due to its distinctive aroma of rose petals and lychee. The nose and flavour profile is heady and bold, not one that is easily forgotten. This is a wine that most people find easy to recognise. It is a grape that can reach very ripe levels and in turn lowers the acidity. Most winemakers decide keep a bit of residual sugar; this adds to the body of the wine.

Concentrate on picking out other characters that are often hiding behind the dominant rose and lychee flavours. Lighter, dry styles may lean towards apricot and citrus. Riper styles can have sweeter notes of candied ginger and Turkish delight.

Colour

Deep, bright, canary yellow

Nose

Pronounced rose petal and lychee, Turkish delight, spicy (ginger, cinnamon), honey, pineapple, apricots

Palate

Medium to heavy bodied, some can feel oily, low acid to medium acid, usually off-dry to semi-sweet

Similar varietals: Muscat, Riesling and Torrontes

Food parings: Due to its touch of sweetness and delicate spicy notes, Gewürztraminer pairs beautifully with Thai dishes and even some mild Indian curries. The bold flavours and weightier palate can hold its own to flavoursome Asian dishes as well as Indian chutneys.

 

Chardonnay

Aroma & Flavours of Two Chardonnay Styles

Chardonnay can be described as the chicken breast of wine, similarly oak barrels can be described as the winemaker's spice rack. Chardonnay is a varietal that takes on flavour very easily. Cheap unoaked Chardonnay can lack in flavour and excitement; more expensive high quality unoaked Chardonnays will be able to display its characteristic profile much better. However, the spectrum of light to ripe style of Chardonnay is huge and depends on many factors like climate, soil and winemaking processes. 

Something to focus on would be finding a lean and tight style of Chardonnay and comparing it to an oaky, buttery style e.g. Chablis vs. oaked Chardonnay from Napa Valley. This way, you can learn how to pin point primary fruit aromas as well as the mineral flint-like notes and differentiate them from the bold oak characters that work with malolactic fermentation to create characters like buttery popcorn, toasted hazelnuts and pie crust.

Colour

Light

Pale yellow

Ripe

Deeper yellow colour, deep golden (aged and oaked Chardonnay)

Nose

Light

Lemon, tree fruit (green apple, pear), minerality (wet pebbles, flint)

Ripe

Tropical fruits (pineapple, passion fruit, guava), stone fruit (apricot, peach), rock melon, red apple and ripe pears

Oaked

Baking spices (cloves, vanilla), biscuit, butter, caramel, coconut, toast

Palate

Medium to medium high acidity, dry style, mouthfeel can range from light to full bodied, oaked Chardonnays can have a creamy mouthfeel

Similar varietals: Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Semillon

Food pairings: Because of the varied styles of Chardonnay, it can pair well with many types of dishes. From delicate seafood to creamy truffle pasta or roast chicken with herbed potatoes. Keep in mind to match the style of wine to the style of food. Light dishes with light wines and heavier more flavoursome dishes with ripe, oaked Chardonnay with a more complex flavour profile.

 

Red Wines 

Red Wines To Train Your Palate

Red wines add tannins to the game. Tannins add bitterness and astringency to wine; it is the drying sensation that you get after swallowing. It is particularity more obvious with heavier, bolder red wines. It is because of the tannin structure that red wines pair well with red meats. Red meats have protein and fat that softens the tannins and acidity, bringing out the flavours of the wine.

Here are some wines to train your palate on detecting different levels of tannins in red wine. These wines all have different aroma profiles and will help you in identifying various fruit characters as well as oak. 

 

Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir Aromas & Flavours

Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow, its thin skin is prone to disease and is also the reason for its light structure. Right off the bat, it is easy to assume that it is Pinot Noir by looking at the colour of the wine. It has a light hue; the colour of the wine is close to the colour of cranberry juice. The nose follows that of the lighter fruit spectrum with red berries and the palate has noticeably gentle tannins.

The most obvious character would be the red fruits. Lighter styles will have fresh berry flavours, whereas riper, warmer climate styles can result in jammy, stewed fruits and even Coca-Cola characters. Underneath the fruit, look for more complex earth driven aromas like forest floor, flower stems and mushroom. An aged Pinot Noir can develop aromas of game and leather.

Colour

Light cranberry red

Nose

Red berries (raspberries, strawberries, cranberries), cherries, earthy (wet leaves, forest floor, mushroom), savoury, gamey

Palate

Light to medium body, dry, low tannin and medium to high acidity

Similar varietals: Nebbiolo, Gamay Noir, Zweigelt

Food pairings: Pinot Noir is a great food wine because of its subtle tannins and medium to high acid. It pairs well with vegetarian dishes as well as meat dishes e.g. roast pork shoulder with fennel, Peking duck, stuffed eggplants with lamb, pine nuts and raisins, wild mushroom pasta.

 

Merlot 

Merlot Aromas & Flavours

Merlot is a very common wine varietal that is equally used in blends and as well as a single varietal. It sits smack bang in the middle in terms of body and tannin in the red wine spectrum, and therefore makes a good comparison between Pinot Noir and Syrah. It is a red fruit driven wine that can take on characters from oak ageing. Merlot can often be described as “juicy” thanks to its fleshy mouthfeel.

Notice the difference in tannin structure and feel the difference it makes on the finish. Because the nose can be subtler on the fruit characters in Merlot, you can focus on the flavours that oak can impart on the wine. Focus on baking spices like cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Merlot can be made in such an array of different styles, the fruit spectrum will also differ in terms of ripeness. Warm climate Merlot can display jam-like characters rather fresh fruit for lighter styles. 

Colour

Bright ruby red

Nose

Red fruit (raspberry, plums, currants), black cherry, baking spice (cloves, vanilla, cocoa, nutmeg), tobacco, tar

Palate

Medium acidity, medium tannin, medium bodied, dry

Similar varietals: Grenache, Sangiovese, Zinfandel

Food pairings: Merlot is fleshy, fruit driven and pairs well with a wide range of foods. Thanks to its medium body and balanced tannin and acid structure, Merlot can be paired with both poultry and red meats. Great examples would be roast turkey with cranberry sauce, braised short ribs, classic cheeseburger and pepper steak.

 

Syrah 

Syrah Aromas & Flavours

Syrah and Shiraz are the same varietal, the quality that separates them would be the winemaking style. Syrah tends to be more refined and elegant, made from Old World winemaking techniques. Shiraz is made from warmer climates, is bolder, higher in alcohol and produced with New World winemaking techniques. Syrah would be on the opposite end of the red wine spectrum when compared with Pinot Noir. Syrah is heavy, bold and full of ripe tannins.

Syrah can have very complex characters, but look for the bold black fruit flavours that are then followed by spice and savoury notes. Freshly cracked black pepper is a character that can easily be associated with Syrah as well as the purplish deep red colour of the wine.

Colour

Deep, dark red with purple tones

Nose

Black fruits (plums, currant, cherries, berries), spice (black pepper, cloves, liquorice, dried herbs), savoury (gamey, leather, fatty bacon, olives)

Palate

Full bodied, medium to medium high acid, heavy tannins, dry

Similar varietals: Pinotage, Petite Syrah, Alicante Bouschet

Food pairings: Smokey, charred red meats are the perfect match with Syrah. The fat and protein in the meat mellows out the strong tannins in the wine. The salty component of the dish will bring out the black fruit character, whereas the spicy, savoury notes in the wine will complement the meat dishes and the sauces that play accompaniment.

Wine Tasting GIF Hopefully we have all surpassed the level of our friend, Steve here (Courtesy of Imgur)

I would recommend you try all the whites and all the reds side by side to gain a better comparison of the characters of each wine. These are great varietals to start off with, but there are so many wines out there. The best way to learn more and to train your palate would be to taste more wine!

Also, broaden your own aroma profile to help you identify flavours better. Take note on what you eat, really taste your food, smell the produce at the supermarket, grow your own mini herb garden, there are so many ways to get better at picking out different aromas and flavours.

Or continue learning by reading more of our monthly blog articles:



These six wines are just the beginning, but they each have fundamental qualities that will help you gain the building blocks for knowing how to taste and appreciate wine. Keep in mind that wines can be made in so many different styles, with some regular practice you will be entrenched in the wine lifestyle and be well on your way to becoming a pro. Happy tasting!

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Nicole Ng

Written by Nicole Ng

This kiwi was born and raised in Middle-earth. Nicole studied Wine Science at the University of Auckland on the beautiful Waiheke Island. Since graduating, she has been harvest hopping around the world. Completing vintages in Marlborough, Napa Valley, Hunter Valley, Ashikaga, and Auckland.

She manages Asian Wine Review and Rosé Revolution which takes up most of her time, but you will also see her helping out at many of TFW Masterclasses too!

With her free time, she likes to find cheap eats around Hong Kong and spend time outdoors. Somehow she is always hungry and has convinced her family and friends that she has a second stomach for dessert.

Unforgettable wine tastings: Corison Winery in Napa valley and Destiny Bay in Waiheke Island.

 

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