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How to find wines you know you’ll love… A conversation with wine

Drinking wine, like wearing perfume, involves a personal choice. When finding a perfume, you spray it on your arm and decide ‘does it suit me?’ However, the world of wine can be a little more baffling.

Wine advisors Marina Gayan MW and Helen Nathan believe expert guidance is called for. They offer a Palate Profiling Service suitable for the novice wine drinker, through to the most sophisticated wine lover, that can help/guide their clients to find styles of wines that suit their palate best. No more opening expensive bottles of wine that you subsequently realise you don’t like.

Having heard about their innovative approach on the grapevine, we invited Gayan and Nathan to Africa House where a few of us – in the name of ‘research’ – were set through our paces. We wanted to see if the service could help us make better wine choices and recommendations based on our individual palates.

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Marina Gayan has all the right wine credentials. She’s a Master of Wine (there are only 338 worldwide). This is an exam that is so stringent that 90% of those that take it fail. It is the highest achievable qualification in the wine world. Gayan’s knowledge is indisputable.  Helen Nathan has 20 years wine trade experience, and she has spent time in Claridges kitchens and writing various top selling cookery books. Together, they are a formidable and knowledgeable partnership.

Prior to the session, we all completed a questionnaire, asking us to disclose our current drinking habits, the perfumes we wear and even how we like our tea or coffee. Apparently this is what helps Gayan and Nathan in their wine ’treasure hunt’. The second step is a tailor made tasting session to fine tune their research before they supply a bespoke feedback document telling you what suits your palate. Finally, they make wine recommendations for you to buy and try at your leisure if you are so inclined.

The first part of the session involved lots of smelling, as we learnt that the human nose is in fact the main organ of taste as well as smell. The so-called taste-buds on our tongues can only distinguish five qualities – sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami -all other ‘tastes’ are detected by the olfactory receptors high up in our nasal passages. Our next task was to eat crisps. This was my first ever ‘blind crisp tasting’ – and was more difficult than it sounds! Did Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfum have this much trouble identifying sour cream and chive? I doubt it.  Helen explained that we needed to really think about familiar tastes and try to identify them without the help of packaging.

Then, based on our profiles from the questionnaire, Marina opened bottles of wines to test our palate. Without the influence of the label we were reliant purely on our senses to judge the wines in front of us. My assumptions about what I liked were turned on their head.

In addition to tasting wine (and the odd cheese and onion crisp) we enjoyed different foods that Helen had prepared. Some of the wines tasted completely different when eaten with or without food – something that was much more obvious when just using the one sense.

What made the experience so different was that it was unlike any wine tasting any of us had done before. The ones I had experienced were generally not focused on the individual and tended to be more ‘salesy’. This, in contrast, was a conversation about wine. I got to learn more about the soil, the grapes, the acidity and there was no such thing as a stupid question.

As promised, a few days later we received our follow up documents outlining information about our personal palate. Having always thought I preferred non-acidic white wines I found that I actually preferred the opposite – ‘skinny, uptight’ wines were not for me. Overall, Gayan and Nathan noted that the wines I favoured were hedonistic, with lots going on. I am apparently a big fan of chardonnay – who knew? They suggested I try drinking that – or a Pinot Gris from New Zealand – with Asian food, a fresher option than the perfumed and un-oaked wines I usually opt for. With French cuisine they suggested creamy Chardonnays or a rich, white Bordeaux, recommending I also experiment with oaked wines from Pessac-Léognan Semillon-led.

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In advance of the tasting I was a little sceptical – I’ve always felt wine tastings have the potential to be overbearing. But Gayan and Nathan offer a new experience, one that aims to give you self-confidence and knowledge.

To find out more visit Gayan & Nathan