The History of Wine Tasting

picture of an ancient greek drinking tasting wine in front of a laptop

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Wine tasting has been a beloved pastime for centuries – and for good reason! Imagine being one of the first people to try a sip of that delicious, fermented grape juice all those thousands of years ago. The earliest evidence of winemaking dates back to 9,000 years ago in China, and it wasn’t long before people started to get creative with their wine tasting.

In the 1300s, as trading of wine began to heat up, merchants and wine producers needed to make sure they were getting the good stuff! So, they started to pay more attention to the flavors, aromas, and overall taste of the wine. This is where the more methodical approach to wine tasting started to take shape. But, let’s be real, it was mainly for the experts like sommeliers and wine producers.

But, fast forward a few centuries, and wine tasting became a popular recreational activity for everyone from the 80s onwards. And now, with virtual wine tastings on Zoom, you can join a virtual wine tasting from the comfort of your own home. Cheers to the rich history of wine tasting!

Wine tasting in ancient times

In ancient Greece, even philosophers like Aristotle and Plato were describing the flavors of wine. They described them as sweet, dry, or sour. Not much has changed, right? We still love our sweet and dry wines today, but I don’t think many people would choose a sour wine when picking their tipple these days.

In Roman times, Pliny had a lot to say about wine, but he had more to say about the bad tastes compared to the good ones. He listed the bad tastes of wine as being tart, sharp, harsh, hard, rough, luscious, unripe and tasting too much of wood. But, on the positive side, he described the wine taste as being pretty, pleasant and that old favorite sweet. So, even back then, people had their preferences when it comes to wine!

Wine tasting through the middle ages and beyond!

In the 17th century, people were describing wine in simple terms like sweet, acute, austere, and milde. But don’t be fooled, even though it seems like not much has changed in terms of wine classification, there were some wise words for wine makers and buyers back then. The Liber de Vinis, written by Arnald of Villanova (1235-1311), gave advice on keeping the palate clean and drinking wine in the right conditions to avoid vinagery wines or wines from poor wine producing regions.

The word “tasting” made its first appearance in French in 1519 in the “Le Livre de la discipline d’amour divine” but it wasn’t until the 1800s that the process and terminology of wine tasting became more formalised. The development of language used to describe wine has played a big role in shaping how we perceive and ultimately produce wine today.

But, all of this doesn’t mean that people in history didn’t care about the quality of wine. They certainly did! Wine has been linked to religious rites for as long as the history of wine. People were more concerned with making sure the wine was not off, old or mouldy.

The Start of a Methodical Approach to Wine Tasting

Wine was often talked about in medical terms and was believed to follow the four humors. This belief led to wine being described in terms of how much heat or warmth it added to the body. But as science progressed, big leaps were made in understanding the process of distilling and fermenting wine. Even governments got in on the action, becoming interested in taxing drinks according to their alcohol content. Some tasters were even said to be able to tell the alcohol content of a wine just by taste alone!

As scientific understanding of wine continued to evolve, more and more scientists became interested in understanding what components affected the taste of wine, not just sugars and acids. They discovered that different components could affect both the taste and smell of wine. By the mid-19th century, scientists began to identify that the taste of wine developed or changed according to factors such as aging. Who knew that wine could be so complex and fascinating!

The descriptive language of wine tasting

As wine tasting continued to evolve, wine makers and merchants started to use a wider range of words to describe the flavors and aromas of wine. Words like bouquet, franc de goût, soyeux, and sève became more commonly used in wine tasting, making it more similar to what we hear at wine tastings today.

In the 1960s, a handful of books were published that discussed wine tasting and classifications, and this is when the popularity of wine tasting really began to soar. More and more systems, like the UC Davis system, were designed to classify wines, and in the 1970s, the Parker point system became well known.

These developments in the language used to describe wine can be seen on wine labels all around the world. The evocative language used to guide and entice you has come a long way from the simple sweet, dry, or sour descriptions of Plato’s time.

Wine experts have developed a specific vocabulary and methodology to try to explain what wine is like. But as we can see, there’s also a backlash from some wine experts like Stein, who wrote for The Los Angeles Times in 2008 “When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass”.

In any case, the world of wine tasting has come a long way, and we would love to guide you through this intriguing and ever-evolving world of one of the world’s most enduring drinks. So, grab a glass and let’s discover the delicious world of wine together!

Wine tasting now and the future

Virtual wine tastings has been the biggest change in the world of wine tasting in recent years. As streaming capabilities started to increase, technology allowed people around the world to connect and try wines with sommeliers and winemakers online- Corporate wine tasting have also become an ideal solution for online wine teambuilding events and product launches. As AI starts to become more and more prevalent we are starting to see its application in the world of wine. Will it be possible to taste wine in the future with a machine? Watch this space

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