Wine tasting can be split into two broad groups: professional and amateur. Each group has its pros and cons but the one similarity can be boiled down to one simple question: why do we taste wine.
It’s relatively simple to deduce why people drink wine, but why people taste wine is a completely different matter.
If you ask a winemaker, they might say it is simply to test if your product is good enough, to see if the wine is finished fermentation, to see if the barrels need to be blended of to taste if something is wrong.
If you ask a sommelier, they might say it’s a lot more complex than simply to see if the wine is faulted. You have to analyse the wine’s acidity, sugar, tannins, body, depth, complexity, aroma, sterility and colour. You have to see if the wine matches up to its region, its terroir and if it is typical of the cultivar that it has been fermented from, you must compare it to previous years, and from its taste and smell deduce what methods were used in making it. Was it whole bunch fermented or were individual berries chosen? Did it undergo malolactic fermentation to make it less acidic or did the grapes just have a low acid to start with? Was there any wood contact? What yeast did they use and how long was this wine lying on the lees for? So many things can be asked and answered by simply tasting a wine.
If you ask a wine lover/amateur they might say a lot of what the sommeliers say, however a more personal approach would be taken. People may come to love the taste of certain wine because they had it on a special occasion, or they associate the taste with fond memories or simply because they get a good tasting wine at a good price. The prestige of going to a wine farm that’s been around for a hundred years might be enough to lure some people in to tasting that farms wine. The story spun by the winemakers and the atmosphere in tasting rooms might be enough to get you hooked on a monthly wine tasting. The more experienced wine lover might taste the wines for the purpose of knowing the product they are buying or comparing this vintage to the one that they are used to drinking. It may be a form of bonding for you and your friends to go to a different farm every month and try different pairings.
A food lover might tell you it is important to try wine so that you can pair it with your food without masking the flavour of it. Sweet dishes (desserts) should be paired with wines that are just as sweet. High levels of umami in food can be balanced by a more acidic wine. Bitterness in food can be lessened by a white wine or low-tannin red wine. Chilli heat can be made bearable by paring the food with low acid white wines that have a good level of fruitiness and sweetness.
At the end of the day we must remember that wine tasting and wine preference is a very personal thing, not everyone loves a heavy red blend that fills your mouth and makes you feel like you’ve licked fruity flavoured wood, and not everyone loves acidic whites or desert wines that are sickly sweet.
In my opinion we taste wine not only to analyse the specifics and parameters of the product, but to taste the story of the region of that time. A wine is a fingerprint of its terroir and region, when the region has suffered from drought and harsh soil conditions the wine will tell its tale of woe, when the region has had optimal conditions the wine will rejoice in its premium status and velvety colour. We taste wine to hear the stories, some pleasant and some dreadful but all interesting to experience.