Not a sommelier but I teach you how to taste wine

Why it’s to your advantage to develop your palate with a sensory scientist versus a sommelier.

Published January, 9 2024

Are you a sommelier?
No, I’m a wine sensory scientist.

Wow, what a way to stop a conversation!

But no wait!

Let me tell you why it’s to your advantage to develop your palate with a sensory scientist like me versus a sommelier.

As you may know, I’ve made it my mission to demystify wine tasting old rituals. If you want to stop second-guessing yourself when you’re tasting wine you’re in the right place

What's the role of sensory scientists?

Sensory scientists are obsessed with understanding what makes a product enjoyable to consume and, of course, what makes a product taste bad.

We usually hide in laboratories, in a Research & Development lab, and it’s our job to guide the food developers to make a product delicious. 

What about wine, isn’t it the job of a winemaker?

Of course, it is, but a winemaker may like to create wine styles that its customers may not fully enjoy. And we help winemakers to better understand what their customers enjoy in a glass of wine.

How do we help winemakers?

We work with a group of people like you.

And we select them to ensure they have normal sensitivities.

What does it mean? 

We check they can detect basic tastes and scents at a level most people do. We don’t want to select people who are not able to detect bitterness, for example, or people who can’t differentiate between familiar odors, for example, between vanilla and strawberry. Yes, it happens!

We also like to work with people who enjoy cooking because we found that foodies have a richer language to describe flavors and textures. Because they tend to pay more attention of the ingredients they use in cooking.

We usually end up with a group of 12-15 people with good potential. We call them sensory panelists. Sensory, because they will use all their senses to assess the foods and wines we are working on.

Then, we train them so that they can further develop their potential.

In the wine world, we talk about developing someone’s palate. But it’s more than that.

At the end of the training, we want the panelists to be able to describe with precision what they smell and taste, we also want them to be repeatable. If we present twice the same glasses of wine, we have similar results.

How do we train sensory panelists?

The panel comes several times a week. Maybe twice for 2 hours, or 3 times a week. It depends.

We develop their ability to pick up small differences in taste intensities or aroma intensities.

We help them put words on what they detect because no one taught them,

Actually, no one taught you how to describe the sensations you experience when you eat or sip a glass of wine.

<< The secret to name wine aromas>>

After several weeks of such training, the sensory panelists are ready.

When we work on a research project, they follow a well-established protocol so that they are not distracted and stay focused on the evaluation they have to do.

And that’s why, if you’re a wine lover, working with a sensory scientist is your best bet to develop your palate. Because that’s our job to develop people’s tasting skills.

  • We teach you how to stay focus,
  • What tasting practices to follow to avoid being biased,
  • And we help you expand your sensory repertoire, your language to describe what you smell and taste.

What about Sommeliers?

But aren’t sommeliers trained the same way? 
No, their training is different.

First of all, sommeliers train to work in hospitality. They are the guardians of the wine cellar. 

Thanks to their deep wine knowledge, they create a curated selection of wines that you will enjoy with the meals prepared by the resident chef. 

Their focus is your enjoyment. 

Their expertise allows them to select an appropriate wine list and deliver an impeccable service.

Sommeliers work very hard at developing their own palate, usually with little guidance on how to do that. So they spend a lot of time reading books, learning what specific wine styles taste like.

And they taste a lot of wine and they try to connect the two: what the books say about wine style and what they experience.
It takes a lot of commitment and dedication.

I was shocked to hear one of the top world sommeliers share that after 10 years in the trade, she was still struggling with her tasting skills.

She was speaking to my peers at an international sensory science conference this past summer.

She said she felt insecure, not knowing if she was correctly assessing wines.

She said:  
"nobody taught us how to use our senses (and she pointed to her nose and mouth) to taste wine."

I spoke recently with someone who earned his WSET Diploma with distinction and told me: 

“I’m no better taster than when I started this long wine education journey. And I spent a lot of money!”

It saddens me really because sensory education should be included in level one of any wine certification program. 

When you learn how to use your senses of smell and taste efficiently,

  • you can better memorize the wines you taste.
  • You can better appreciate the terroir influences on a wine style or the use of specific oak barrels on a wine profile.

How can you start developing your palate and your tasting skills the sensory science way?

I created a free short course, Boost your tasting skills by following 3 simple steps.

 I will close with one of my favorite quotes by Ernest Hemingway:

A person with increasing knowledge and sensory education may derive infinite enjoyment from wine.

And if you learned with me today, feel free to leave me a comment below.


Categories: Tasting education

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Wine Taster

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Isabelle Lesschaeve

Principal, Blog author, and Wine Tasting Coach

Internationally renowned wine sensory scientist, Isabelle demystifies wine tasting and helps serious wine lovers sharpen their tasting skills and tasting notes in a supportive community.

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