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Zajvhal's avatar

Can anyone really taste oak and strawberry or velvet and smoke in wine?

Asked by Zajvhal (314points) February 15th, 2010

I love wine and I drink a lot of it, but I would by no means call myself a connoisseur. And I’ve learned how to taste it properly and I can see where you might find fruit flavors, or even oak or smoke…but I swear…some of these descriptions…I mean seriously…can anyone actually taste these things?

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14 Answers

lilikoi's avatar

I just had a wine that said there were “notes of cocoa” on the finish. I did not find them.

Captain_Fantasy's avatar

The wine aficionados I know generally regard that kind of talk as nonsense.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

Sometimes I can taste them. But some people have a more sensitive taste buds and/or olfactory sense. Generally I can’t, but then again I haven’t had a whole lot of good quality wines. I usually go for the cheaper bottles.

Have you seen John Cleese’s program on wine? It was really good and informative.

judochop's avatar

Yes, there are people who can taste it. I am one of them. I’ve been working in the liquor industry for a long time now and I have met some amazing people that will smell and then taste and then tell you everything that goes in to it without even knowing the product. They exist, in great numbers.

fireflys's avatar

breedmitch, you note wine as an expertise…can you share your thoughts?

There are wines that seem to have a more buttery smooth feel to them. Others that are stark and vinegary.

YARNLADY's avatar

Many people can, I can occasionally.

HTDC's avatar

I was thinking of this the other day when watching Oz and James’s Big Wine Adventure, it sounds like bull to me, I think they just verbalize the first thoughts that come to their head when drinking the wine.

It’s almost like the placebo effect. If you tell yourself it tastes like velvet or strawberry it eventually will, the brain is almost tricked into “tasting” those flavors.

andrew's avatar

I had a friend who was a wine aficionado who gave me great advice when tasting wine.

Taste the wine, then smell the wine, taste it again and think about what you taste. If you taste it, then it’s in there. If you taste oak, or smoke, or bacon, or whatever, then it’s in there for you.

It’s not about being “right”, it’s about exploring your own palette.

ratboy's avatar

Only after the fifth or sixth bottle unless it’s Thunderbird, in which case I can discern the subtle aroma of kerosene after just a single bottle.

downtide's avatar

There are differences in the flavour between different wines, and using terms like “oak” and “strawberry” doesn’t mean those flavours are actually there, it’s just a way of verbalising and describing the differences. It’s very much the same with malt whiskies (most of the flavour in whisky comes from the cask).

breedmitch's avatar

Andrew, I’m interested as to why this question was not in my “questions for you” box.
Thanks to augustlan for directing me here.
First to answer the question directly: yes. Lots of people can. (although I’d probably say “velvet” was more of a texture than a flavour.)

When approaching a new wine (and I taste dozens every week) I first want to inspect the appearance. I’m looking for degree of clarity, intensity, colour, separation of colour. I’m looking for bubbles, deposits, checking the legs. I do this over a white background and in a very well lit space.

Next I’m going to evaluate the nose. I swirl on a level surface to incorporate some air into the wine I bring the glass up to my nose and with my mouth open I inhale lightly.(through the nose and the mouth) At this point I’m not trying to think of things I can name that I smell. I’m just smelling. If the guy next to you starts spouting a laundrylist of all the things he can smell at this point you know he’s green. Slow your roll there, bud. What I am looking for is the condition of the nose and its intensity. Am I getting any signs that it is showing development (ageing). Now I’ll swirl and smell again. Now I am looking to detect any aromas I can name. I’ll start with fruits and begin with just generalisations: red fruits? black fruits?(for red wines) citrus fruits? apple/pear (for whites) dried? (raisin-y wines are distinct on the nose.) Next I’ll attempt to detect any spice: clove, cinnamon, nuts, pepper, smoke, leather. Floral elements: rose petal, violets? Vegetal elements: asparagus, green pepper? (At this point I’m just barely thinking about what oak treatment I can detect. Unless it’s overpowering, I’ll come back to it later.) I run down the list in my head. And I might do this two or three more times, always taking notes. I have notes for every wine I’ve tasted (for work) in the last three years.

Now it’s time to taste. Swirl again. I sip enough wine into my mouth to fill it at a relaxed state and, once it’s there, draw in some air across my tongue. I roll the wine all around my mouth, on all sides of my tongue, between my lips and teeth, hold it there for about 5 seconds and then spit. (I can taste flavours better if I spit.) While I’m rolling it around my palate I’m looking for level of sweetness (and by that I mean actual sugar, not fruit), acidity, and levels (and intensity, and integration,and type) of tannin (which is a chemical reaction in the mouth, not a flavour). After it’s out of my mouth I’m thinking about the body, intensity of flavour, and the level of alcohol (I can usually guess this to within .5%)
Now I taste again. Same method. Now I’m looking for the flavours I can distinguish. Again, I start with generalisations and narrow down from there. I’m looking for fruits, nuts, spices, leather, tar, tobacco, mint, eucalyptus, smoke, flowers, coffee, candy, vegetables, herbs, hay, etc. And I start to think about oak. (which I’ll go into at another time.)
I’ll taste one last time and this time I concentrate only on the texture, finish and its length. All the while taking notes, taking notes. Before I write my final description I try to narrow the aromas and flavours down more specifically. Let’s say I tasted cherry. Was it wild cherry? Black cherry?

It sounds like a lot, but the whole process takes less than a minute. It is something that I have learned to do with repeated practice. You can learn it, too. I suggest you taste one dozen wines a week for two years.~

@lilikoi: “notes of cocoa” are very common on new world Cabernet Sauvignon.

@andrew: Your friend is indeed wise. The only caveat I have with what he told you is oak. Every novice at one point says they taste oak, only to find that the wine saw no oak treatment.

ItsAHabit's avatar

If you enjoy wine and tasting wines, you might enjoy this:

ItsAHabit's avatar

A French researcher’s Ph.D. dissertation demonstrated scientifically that “a lot of what wine connoisseurs say about wine is humbug: A side-by-side chart of best-to-worst rankings of 18 wines by a roster of experienced tasters showed about as much consistency as a table of random numbers.” See Wine Snob Scandal at

Sunny2's avatar

When I used to drink wine a lot, I could taste subtleties like tobacco (ugh) and raspberry (yum). Now that I can no longer drink, I’ve lost my taste for wine almost entirely. None of it tastes good to me. (Cant say the same for hard liquor, but I have to measure it in a medicine dose cup to get the allowed 2 tablespoons I can have without it affecting me deleteriously.

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