Listening to Your Inner Palate and Blocking Out the Static
Have you shared a bottle of wine in a group dynamic – restaurant meal, dinner party or wine bar – and fell in love with the wine on the spot? It instantly hits all the right hot buttons of your palate: the aromas are sensual, your mouth and tongue are coated with a cornucopia of pleasing flavors, and as you swallow, your whole wine psyche is enlivened, every nerve ending is tingling. Wow, what a wine.
Just as you’re about to shout out that you’ve discovered your new “favorite wine” you look around at your drinking partners. Expecting that they have just experienced the same ethereal moment, you are taken back. Rather than expressions of pleasure on their faces and in their eyes, you see disapproving looks, wrinkled noses and puckered mouths. How is it that your body language may emote ecstasy while others’ emote disdain?
This experience has befallen me – on numerous occasions. My palate’s interpretation of a particular red wine’s earthy aromas, evoking visceral olfactory sensations of forest floors or pungent mushrooms, is in contraposition to the palate of my drinking mate’s interpretation of the wine as maliferous, pungent barnyard odors on a hot, damp day.
Likewise, when friends regale me with their fascination with red wines I’ve dubbed “California Juicy Fruits,” I cringe at the prominent flavor of sweet grape juice in my mouth, without a defined structure of complexity or sophistication. For me the labels may as well read “Welch’s.” But a certain demographic in America seems to have a genetic predisposition to all things fruity – from desserts to breakfast cereal and recently to red wine.
Each of us has a wine palate that is unique and individual. Our gustatory physiology is a basic component of human DNA; however, the variations of our four taste receptors and ten thousand senses of smell is what labels some of us as being “wine snobs” and others as having an “unsophisticated palate.”
Compounding this conflict are wine critics. How many times have you read wine opinions on a particular wine that vary significantly one from the other? It’s as if the bottle of wine being critiqued was switched between critics’ samplings, fomenting opinions that are radically different. One critic’s “blueberries and leather” descriptors for a wine may be another critic’s “chocolate and velvet” descriptors for the same bottle.
The method I’ve used to hone my wine preferences is simple: trial and error. Years ago, I blind tasted wines on as many occasions as possible. Each time I would memorize my palate’s reaction to a wine: Bitter? Sweet? Acidic? Fruity? Simple? Complex? Over time, I built a personalized profile of aroma and flavor components that were pleasing to my unique palate. I found that I preferred wines produced from specific grapes, from specific regions and from specific winemakers. As I often advise readers: “Continuous experimentation results in instinctive behavior.”
All of this is not to say that there aren’t generalizations that provide macro value in narrowing my experimentation. My palate responds favorably to wines with a balance between acid and fruit. The macro style of French Pinot Noir is pleasing to me. My wife’s palate prefers wines that are fruit-forward; heavy tannins compromise her taste buds. The macro style of California Pinot Noir is pleasing to her.
Back to those California Juicy Fruit wines. More prolific than ever before, they represent one of the fastest growing categories of wine sales (many from California).
More winemakers are tapping their creative juices, attempting to be all things to more people. The entrepreneurial ones have found the sweet spot of American wine consumers: fruit–forward, simple red wines that are equally enjoyed with light food fare or as a quaffing wine in social settings.
If your palate is simpatico with the style of these wines, experiment with macro level offerings and develop a personalized style profile in your memory banks. Happy hunting.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.