Fruit of the vine

Exploring the complexity of wines for fun and flavor

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Wine expert Lisa Lesyshen says no two people have identical palates, and there is no wrong answer to the question, "What do you taste in this wine?"

"The thing about wine is, it's about fun, and people can make it so pretentious," Lesyshen said. "Drink it to enjoy and drink what you like."

Lesyshen is one of the owners of Vino, a Steamboat store that specializes in wines.

Far from being intimidating, a wine seminar should be a way to gather with people who share your enthusiasm and bounce your tastes off theirs, Lesyshen suggests. It's the best way to gradually build your palate along with your knowledge.

Residents and visitors to Steamboat Springs have a chance to do just that every August during the Steamboat Wine Festival. This year's event is Aug. 2 through 5 (Tickets for tastings are available at www.steamboatwinefestival.com).

The sophisticated wine taster is most often portrayed as a careful, contemplative sipper. But one Colorado wine expert advocates beginning by going all in, much like swimmers suddenly immersing themselves in a cold mountain lake.

There's something to be said for getting over the shock. In the case of wines, Bob Witham of Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction suggests shocking the main acid and tannin receptor sites in your mouth on first taste. That strategy gives you a better chance to recognize the subtleties on second taste, he said.

Budding wine tasters who have encountered "dry" red wines that inspire a woody sensation in the front of their mouths have begun to recognize tannins that are introduced into wines from the seeds and stems of the grapes. The oak barrels in which fine wines age also contribute to the tannin factor.

Tannins are vital to helping wines age gracefully and add structure to the fruit-based flavors of wine.

Witham suggests allowing a taste of wine to settle between one's lower lip and gums to excite the tannin sites.

Next, roll the wine to the back of the palate, above the tongue where you can expect the malic acid sites to really zing. Malic acid is the same acid encountered when biting into a crisp apple.

Finally, allow the wine to settle below the tongue and the softer lactic acid sites will begin to react.

Lesyshen reminds us that our sense of taste is closely linked to our sense of smell. Thus, the taste we will perceive in a particular glass of wine. It could be the scent of lilac in the air, or the smokiness of an outdoor campfire.

Typically, it's the aroma of the food we are about to enjoy with our wine that influences our taste. That could mean that acidic pineapple in a salad will influence the way a chardonnay tastes. Similarly, steak au poivre might bring out the peppery finish in a zinfandel from Southern California's hot wine growing region.

Now that you've calmed those acid receptor sites and made the link between aroma and taste, kick back and savor the subtleties of your wine. - Tom Ross

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