What Good is Deductive Tasting?
Get More Out of Your Wine
Deductive tasting, or the “grid,” is a method sommeliers use to assess the identity of an unmarked glass of wine. Identifying the vintage, varietal, and region of an unlabeled glass of wine is a crucial element in the Court of Sommeliers exams. Such mastery is excessive for the casual wine drinker, and likely even the average wine nerd. Nevertheless, the basics of deductive tasting can greatly enrich your experience of wine.
Deductive tasting breaks down into two parts: a description of the wine, and inferences about the wine’s identity. Description of the wine is formal, that is, you apply nearly the same concepts to each glass of wine you try. Inferences about the wine’s identity requires a fast repertoire of facts. Sure, the wine is deep gold, and smells of almonds, but which regions are likely to produce such a wine? What qualities separate such wines between, say, France and South Africa? Such facts are fascinating, and they are part of what makes wine intriguing. But it’s not where we need to start, or even end.
So why learn how to describe wine? For one, you get more out of your purchase. Yes, wine tastes good, and yes, it gives us a buzz. But just as appreciating the different aspects of a well-made meal is enjoyable, so too is appreciating the different dimensions of a glass of wine. And this ability to describe a glass of wine empowers you as the consumer. No longer will you be tied to a brand, or limited to the ambivalent emotions a wine label evokes. You will be able to walk in a store and ask for exactly what you want. You won't even have to fumble with unfamiliar terminology. You can just describe what you want in your bottle of wine. Do you want an herbaceous red wine? Or a bottle of white that’s floral and round-bodied? The wine clerk can then pull together a few options for you: perhaps a few of their own favorites, or some bottles from a region you have yet to try.
Brushing up on how to describe wine will make picking out a new bottle exciting instead of intimidating. It will enrich your experience of wine as well as your ability to share it. So let’s break down the descriptive aspect of deductive tasting!
We can break down a glass of wine into three basic qualities: appearance, smell, and taste.