All of your experiences growing up and in the future influence how you will develop your wine palate. An important ability to develop when embarking on this wonderful adventure of wine tasting is to teach yourself how to recognize a ‘well made wine’. When approaching a new wine, always ask yourself - Is this a well made wine? And then at the end of the tasting process, analysis…, again ask, - is this a well made wine?
This is not a simple question, but it presupposes that you have gathered enough experiences to be able to judge true varietals characters, balance and typicity. You can assess a wine in its unyielding youth (just bottled, with bright acidity…) and most importantly, can make a quality call independent of any media, press or price. Make a confident opinion on your own.
Below is an easy checklist of subsequent questions to ask yourself as you taste, whether buying for yourself or for a restaurant wine-list. Is this wine a good, honest expression, or is it a youthful expression and not fully balanced? When and how could I enjoy this wine? Can I sell this wine to my customers? Is there a ‘local’ market for this wine, or can I create one in the coming season? Is it enjoyable, will it deliver pleasure when paired with the current menu? Is there a good price/value relationship, what can I have to sell it for? Is there a appropriate gap on the wine-list? And, finally, once again, is this a well made wine? This simple methodology, practiced faithfully, will become second nature and will keep your palate honest.
Your palate is a complex combination of four senses: sight, smell, taste and mouth-feel. When you pick up a glass of wine, look at it and take a sip, your brain takes on a flood of information. Stop and take notice of the wines unique specifics:
Visual / Sight: Shades of colour, intensity of colour, is it a still or sparkling wine. Smell: Aromatics and flavours through a combination of nasal and tongue sensors, receptors. Taste: Sweet, Bitter & Astringent, Dry, Oak characters (plus tastes of mineral notes) Sensation / Texture: Cool, warm, heat (due to high alcohol), Astringency (tannins), Fizz, viscosity…
Your Palate Memory Trained and Ready:
Over your lifetime, your palate has automatically (and mostly unconsciously) developed likes and dislikes. For example, if you grew up drinking milk, then moved onto soft-drinks and finally onto ready-made cocktails, your palate is used to creamy consistency, sweetness, cold temperature, fizziness and heat (from alcohol). When starting out on developing your palate - write down a list of things you liked to eat and drink when you were a child, adolescent, and now as an adult. Note their characteristics.
Cultural Influences on your Palate:
Your palate preferences are strongly influenced by your culture (family, friends), social, economic forces and accessibility. Do not underestimate these influences when developing your palate and relating to others. This fact must also be considered when following media and printed wine reviews. Find someone who explains the whole background on a wine - not just broad-stroke words that have no references or examples to how others will interpret the wine characters and enjoy, serve with varied dishes and how it will age and develop. Also don’t get too stressed about the 100 point scoring system some use - wine is an expression and interpretation and a wines flavours move fluidly on a sliding scale of senses so quickly - it is virtually impossible to select an exact score for a wine placing it above or below another and assume others will agree.
This is a lifelong journey - remember to record your impressions of wine and food, be part of a regular tasting group, find a mentor where possible to help guide and encourage you, do your homework - plus always remember to be open to new experiences, enjoy the journey.