Wine continues to baffle those who think red only goes with meat and white with fish. The language that goes with it is also perplexing. There’s even a book—a picture book!—that pokes fun at the language wine critics use to describe their preferred beverage.
“The Illustrated Winespeak: Ronald Searle’s Wicked World of Winetasting” is basically a selection of commonly used phrases relating to wine, paired with goofy illustrations that capture the sentiment. “Full-bodied, with great character” is a portly man contorted like a trained seal, a wine bottle and glass perched on his upturned nose, while “ages beautifully” is a mature, slightly batty woman swanning around in a diaphanous dress.
In an attempt to demystify the beverage, Lifestyle chatted with three wine experts who gave their takes on how to develop one’s taste and what to look for when one is on the market for a bottle or two.
“There is no secret in developing one’s taste for wine. Just like in a sport or a hobby, you need to practice—and for wine, well, you need to drink it,” says Tanguy Gras, general manager of H&T wine gallery, an online store.
Fortunately, there are ways to develop one’s taste better and faster. Gras suggests reading wine reviews by professionals like James Suckling and Robert Parker on sites like Decanter.com, Wineentusiast.com and Winefolly.com.
See, swirl, sniff, sip, savor
“The aim is to get guidance from these people who tasted the wine before, and follow the steps in tasting a wine, namely, see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor,” says Gras. “With this, we can already get an idea of what aromas, flavors and textures can be found in the wine and add those to our own experience, as all senses are not perceived in the same way for everyone.”
A former food and beverage manager at Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel and former F&B director at Admiral Hotel Manila, Gras says he developed his own taste for wine by reading the wine review first to find out what aromas were present, and then trying to spot those in the particular wine himself.
“There are great tools for such a purpose, like the wheel of aromas. Often we smell something but we have difficulty putting a name on it. Using this tool, we go for aromas on the wheel first and try to see if this can be spotted in the wine we are trying. The same goes for the flavors using a flavor chart (winefolly.com/deep-dive/identifying-flavors-in-wine).”
H&T wine gallery recently launched its YouTube channel that Gras says will feature “wine tastings without pretension, to guide our customers through their wine experience.” They will also offer monthly wine and cheese classes for those who want to learn and develop their taste and pairing skills.
Damien Planchenault was the former sommelier and manager of The Tasting Room at City of Dreams Manila. He now sells wines on Lazada under the brand La Fouine. To develop one’s taste
when it comes to choosing wines, he suggests being more adventurous and open.
“Do not always stick with the same grape or country even if you like it, so your palate will also get used to different styles of wines and tastes,” Planchenault says, adding that one can start with single grape wines “so you can identify if you prefer lighter over full-bodied wines.”
“To have a good wine, you need to have the perfect balance between fruit, alcohol and acidity. If you have too much of one component present, it is unbalanced, too strong, acidic or sweet,” he adds.
Planchenault put up La Fouine to guide clients with a selection of his personal preferences that range “from classic to surprising or unusual wines, but always keeping the importance of value for money in mind.”
Since the pandemic has made it untenable to organize private wine tasting for regular clients, he has been working with a team from Lazada on informative videos showcasing wines from the store with details about the grapes, countries and wineries.
Juan Carlos de Terry has a PhD in Enology and is the man behind the the two-decades-old Terry Selection. Like Gras and Planchenault, he says that one can only develop a taste for wine by drinking it, and drinking it often.
“You have to try many wines very often to be able to acquire a taste for them, to memorize the flavors and nuances of different varieties and regions where they come from. This will help you identify varieties and origins,” De Terry says.
When sampling a wine, he says one should look for “good balance concerning acidity, soft tannins, aromas, intensity in the mouth, and a long and pleasant aftertaste.”
For Gras, for a wine to be enjoyable, it should be balanced. “This means that all the flavors, body, finish should work in harmony. No one wants their wine to be too acidic, too bitter, too strong in alcohol. It’s like a chef’s recipe—it should not be too salty or too sweet.”
Planchenault recommends an easy-to-drink, casual wine for every day at home, but richer or more full-bodied wines for weekends.
“Bubbles should be part of any celebration, but it doesn’t need to be Champagne, as you can now find very good Cava from Spain or other French sparkling wines. Wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be good,” Planchenault says.
Gras agrees. “For P1,000 or less, there are a lot of great wines available in the Philippines that people can enjoy without breaking the bank. Low quality wines will usually sell very cheap, but it is not always the case. Some wines are very affordable at P500 or less and are still great value for price paid,” Gras says.
“In the end,” he adds, “as long as you enjoy what you drink—that’s what’s most important.”