Enhancing Your Wine Tasting Journey: The Power of Comparative Tasting

Introducing the Comparative Tasting Method—the sensory tasting approach that allows you to explore and compare different wines side by side.

Are you ready to embark on a journey that will elevate your wine tasting skills and expand your sensory repertoire? In this article, you'll dive into a tasting method that will change how you experience wine as you learn about all its facets.

Forget the traditional approaches for a minute and let's investigate the power of comparative tasting.

Whether you're enrolled in WSET studies or pursuing a sommelier certification, this technique will help you go through the hurdles of wine description more easily. So let's begin!

Why Traditional Wine Education Falls Short.

Are you following the "See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, and Savour" method? How does it work for you?

Maybe you realized how it limits your sensory exploration.

Traditional wine education often emphasizes visual cues, leading to unconscious biases about how a wine may smell or taste. For example, observing a red wine with dark hues may make you automatically assume it has intense dark fruit aromas, but what if it surprises you with notes of spices, vanilla, or even smokiness?

The visual aspect can be one of the most detrimental biases in wine tasting.

  • It creates expectations that may not be confirmed, and
  • It makes you think logically rather than relying on your senses

In addition, traditional wine education forces you into rigid tasting grids that limit your ability to express yourself, using your experiences. 

That's why it's time to flip the script.

The comparative method allows you to break free from traditional approaches and tap into your personal sensory associations.

Indeed, when you start your wine tasting education, it’s easier to use your own language than trying to learn the WSET or deductive method technical language.

Introducing the Comparative Tasting Method.

The comparative tasting method might be a game-changer in your wine tasting practice. Unlike monadic tasting, the technique where you assess the characteristics of one wine at a time, comparative tasting allows you to contrast and compare two wines side by side. More than two wines at a time will confuse your senses.

You will discover below how this comparative approach helps you build your sensory repertoire and learn the nuances that make each wine unique.

Getting Started with Comparative Tasting.

Let's dive into the practical steps of conducting a comparative tasting. Imagine you have two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc from two different wine regions in front of you. 

Here's how you can apply the comparative tasting method:

Smell: Begin by smelling wine #1 and take note of the aromas it evokes. Write down what it reminds you of—be it fruits, spices, or other familiar scents. Then, move on to wine #2 and describe its aroma in contrast to the first sample. Is it stronger, fruitier, or perhaps more spicy? Don't worry about being overly precise; this exercise trains your brain to differentiate between the two wine aromatic profiles.

Taste: Take a sip of the first wine and focus on its basic tastes. Does it remind you of something sweet, sour, or bitter?

Draw associations with other beverages or flavors you've encountered. Pay attention to the retronasal aroma—the scents that arise in your mouth as you sip—and how the wine feels in your mouth. Is it smooth, creamy, or perhaps acidic?

Compare and Contrast: Now, it's time to move on to the second wine. Contrast what you now taste and feel with what you discovered in the first wine. Is the second sample more or less sour, dry, or fruity? By comparing the two wines, you'll begin to unravel the subtle differences and similarities between them. 

This exercise strengthens your sensory language and enhances your ability to discern various characteristics.

Building Your Sensory Repertoire.

Remember, there is no absolute right or wrong when it comes to wine tasting. Your sensory experiences are unique to your genetics and your cultural background. So, it's all about personal associations and comparisons.

You'll gradually build your sensory repertoire as you explore different wines and consciously relate them to familiar smells, tastes, or feels.

Perhaps one wine reminds you of the aroma of freshly baked strawberry tarts, while another evokes the fragrance of a fragrant plant in your garden or your shampoo fragrance. 

These associations become the building blocks of your sensory language, enabling you to describe wines with more depth and precision.

But you might wonder, "Is it acceptable to describe a wine smelling like my shampoo?" 

Absolutely! Your sensory language is deeply personal, and drawing connections between wine aromas and everyday scents is perfectly fine. In fact, it can be an excellent starting point for further exploration. 

After your tasting, take a moment to check the fragrance of your shampoo in the bathroom. You might discover that what you smelled in the wine was reminiscent of apples, which happen to be the fragrance of your shampoo.

This process of association and verification is how we expand our sensory language, honing our ability to identify and articulate different aromas and flavors.

How to break the language barrier?

To complement your tasting experience, consider utilizing tools like the wine aroma wheel. This handy tool categorizes aromas from general descriptors like fruity, floral, or spicy to more specific terms like citrus fruits, berries, or vanilla. 

The wine aroma wheel can serve as a useful reference point, guiding you in pinpointing and articulating the nuances of the aromas you encounter during your tastings.

It's important to remember that when you embark on your wine tasting education, it's not about striving for correctness or precision from the get-go. Instead, give yourself permission to use your own language and associations to describe what you smell and taste. 

As you actively listen to your nose with increased awareness, your descriptive abilities will naturally refine and evolve over time. 

The key is to continue building your sensory language through regular practice and exploration.

In conclusion.

The comparative tasting method offers a new way to enhance your wine tasting skills. 

By contrasting and comparing different wines side by side and on each sensory modality (smell, taste, and mouthfeel), you develop a rich sensory repertoire that allows you to identify and appreciate the unique characteristics of each wine. 

Embrace the personal associations and comparisons that come to mind, and don't hesitate to use your own language when describing the aromas and flavors.

As you journey further into the world of wine, your sensory language will grow and deepen, enriching your overall tasting experience.

I hope this article has inspired you to embark on your own comparative tasting adventures. Remember, there's no right or wrong, only the joy of discovery and the pleasure of expanding your wine knowledge through tasting.

Published June 14, 2023

Categories: Tasting education

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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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