I maintain a strong on-line presence in a number of on-line wine related forums and I can’t tell you how many times I get asked this question. Sadly there is no really simple answers that fill all palates. Actually the concept of tasting sour, bitter or sweet starts with the taste receptors in an individuals mouth. Have you ever wondered why some people love Broccoli and others just hate it? It like wine is all a product of how your mouth perceives what you eat and drink. To a degree we have some control over the end result by what we put in our mouths and how we decide to treat the receptor sensation. Wine is a great example of how this all evolves.
Wine lovers all started with no sense of what wine tasted like. If, like the boomers you cut your teeth (figuratively) on Boones Farm, Mogen David and Annie Green Spring (now the anathema of the wine world) you probably graduated to some combination of Carlo Rossi, Gallo, and Mondavi jug wines and then in the 1970 and 80 to some more specific labels. The reality was as much social function as it was a taste function. It was cool to have a wine glass in your hand at parties; it added to your level of perceived sophistication and even if you didn’t like the taste of a wine at first you sipped it. After a while you began to tolerate it more and pretty soon you convinced yourself that you actually liked it. In the wine industry this is known as palate development and they hope that you will soon be able to distinguish between really good (translated expensive) well vinted and aged wines and the productions stuff. I posted on this subject about a year ago as I tried to distinguish the “craft wine” industry where quality and price had no correlation, from the big houses where price and quality ran on parallel tracks. I have digressed.
Some people have a palate that recognizes sweet as very good (pleasing) and bitter or sour as bad (unpleasant) If you are one of them, It is okay and real wine aficionados will not think the less of you. If you want to be “into” wine there are plenty of sweet varieties, Rieslings, Gwertztrameiners, Ports, Sauternes, Moscatos, to name a few, that will give you plenty of opportunity to develop your palate the way you want. On the other hand if you are adventurous, I challenge you to explore the distinction between “Sweet” and “Fruity”. Sweet wines can be fruity but will remain sweetish on the, lips, tongue and down the throat while a Fruity dryer wines will morph from the lips to the back of the throat. It will give a sweet (fruit forward) sensation on the tip of the tongue, show more acid (sourness) on the sides of the tongue and become more tannic (dryness) as it moves to the back of the throat.
In general terms more white wines are sweeter than you find in the Reds, unless a winemaker chooses to force the sweetness in the vinting process (most don’t). On of my favorites, Jim Olsen, a faculty member at UC Davis makes a nice sweet red blend called Sweet Angel
which he especially designed for NakedWines.com angel who like sweeter wines and wanted something red. The good new: he made, the bad news you can only get it from Naked Wines and there is a waiting list to be come and Angel (member of Naked Wines).
The real point to this post: don’t let the wine industry define you in any way shape or form, you define yourself in the context of the industry and the availability of existing wines that fit your likes and dislikes. If you are a sweet wine drinker don’t afraid to try new wines and don’t make a decision on what your palate says about a wine until you’ve tasted it over several days especially reds. Yes you read this correctly; modern wines get vinted to be consumed differently than older ones with more age on them. Modern winemaking techniques allow for them to be consumed and enjoyed without being aged for a long time. That said younger wines are not hurt by getting a little air, in fact any red wine with a vintage date of 2012 or younger, should probably be aerated or decanted for a while before you try it. The impact of this and tasting over several days is to see how the wine develops over time. The injection of oxygen into the bottle (simply opening and re capping after tasting a bit) gives it the essence of aging. To a degree, you can tell what a wine will be like in a year, two years and even longer. As always I love feed back so let me know if this was helpful or not and how it can be improved so it gets closer to your interests and learning style.