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How to Taste Wine: The 3 Stages of a Wine Tasting

There’s no denying that wine tasting is a subjective experience. The difference between an expert and an amateur is that an expert knows what they like and what they’re looking for. Learning what you’re looking for is a years-long process—ideally one that brings you joy (and a lot of wine). What develops your taste is figuring out a way to make your tasting experience concrete and tangible.

Wine connoisseurs do that by splitting a wine experience into three stages: the attack (or approach), the midpalate, and the finish.

You’ve heard someone describe a wine’s “finish,” but there are other parts of a sip of wine to pay attention to. For instance, the attack is the wine’s initial taste, the first texture and flavor you experience. The midpalate describes the changes in a wine’s flavor as you let it unfold on the tongue. Once you swallow the wine, the finish describes the taste that’s left behind.

Complex Wines vs. “Donut” Wines

It’s helpful to think about wine as a dynamic experience: the flavor of a complex wine will change as it moves around your palate. That’s what separates wine from other beverages. A glass of grape juice tastes like grape juice from beginning to end. A glass of Merlot might taste like anise and chocolate at first, transition to black cherries and pie crust, then end with a refreshing acidic finish.

However, not all wines offer a dynamic experience. Wines without a midpalate are sometimes described as flat or static—and if you like the flavor, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, wine connoisseurs turn to wine because it demands their full attention. Critics of flat wines call them “donut” wines because they’re missing something in the middle.

What Determines If a Wine Has a Midpalate?

There are a number of factors that go into the development of a wine’s midpalate. The primary factory is tannin; wine needs structure to support a strong midpalate. However, ripeness at harvest, yeast selection, and temperature of the ferment can all affect how a wine develops.

What Wine Tells Us About Life

Life, like wine, is a dynamic experience. It’s constantly changing, shifting, and offering us new adventures and opportunities. No two days are the same, no matter how similar they are. After over a year in lockdown, it’s easy to feel like time is merging all our days together, as though tomorrow is the same as yesterday is the same as last Tuesday.

Wine tasting reminds us to pay attention, to remain engaged. If we are, we can uncover something new—maybe something no one else has noticed.

If you’re interested in a wine that tastes like the one we described, those are the tasting notes taken from our 2019 Diamond Mountain Merlot. See those and other wines here.