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A Matter of Taste

Becky Luigart-Stayner
Proper tasting technique will enhance your wine experience.

A good wine can taste either fairly bland or pretty dramatic depending on the technique you use to taste it. There is a correct way to taste wine, and practicing it can increase the enjoyment derived from every glass you drink.

It starts with smell. As we all know from having a cold, much of what we call taste is really smell. So if you want to fully taste a wine, you can't skip the smelling part. In fact, taking many quick sniffs (instead of one long inhale) works best. While certain aromas are detected via the nerve cells, current taste research suggests that some aromas are only registered through the passageway at the back of the throat. In order to pick up on these aromas, you have to hold the wine in your mouth for a few seconds and slosh it around a bit.

Holding the wine for a second or two rather than swallowing it quickly has another advantage in relation to your taste buds. Taste buds are sensory cells within onion-shaped structures that exist all over your mouth and throat, not just on your tongue. It takes time for flavor molecules to penetrate through the opening in the top of the structure (called the taste pore) and register on your "buds" (which is why a child who is about to swallow a bad-tasting medicine is often told to swallow fast). Therefore, holding the wine allows you to get the full impact of the wine's flavor.

Also, by briefly holding the wine in your mouth and then swallowing, you'll be able to notice how the wine "finishes." A wine's finish is the flavor that lingers on your palate after you've swallowed. In general, great wines always have beautiful, long finishes-another aspect of the wine to enjoy.

Finally, a practical tip to accentuate flavor: Be sure to use large glasses with generous-sized bowls for both white and red wines. Such glasses give you room to swirl the wine vigorously. By aerating the wine, you help release its aromas (and hence its flavors). All wines benefit from aerating.

If you're skeptical about all this, conduct an experiment. Taste a wine without following any of the tips I've recommended; then try the suggestions above. You'll be amazed just how much more flavor awaits in every wineglass.

Cooking Light wine expert Karen MacNeil is chair of the wine programs at the Culinary Institute of America in California's Napa Valley. Wine prices may vary.