The most liberating moment that I’ve experienced as a wine drinker was the realization that I had grown to trust my palate. I was recently reminded of this experience while commenting on a fellow blogger’s wine review. He made the disclaimer that one of the larger publications had not given the wine in question a favorable rating, but that he trusted his own palate and had thoroughly enjoyed the wine. His comment really hit home with me.
I didn’t always trust my palate. During my early wine drinking days, I relied heavily on the scores/ratings that a wine had received from larger publications when selecting a wine. As discussed in a previous post, my opinion is that these scores can be helpful when used the right way but should not be viewed as dogma.
So what changed? There are two aha moments that I can point to. The first moment occurred a couple of years ago and involved a pinot noir, namely the 2007 Saintsbury Garnet from the Carneros region. I purchased the Saintsbury because it came from the notable Napa appellation of Carneros, well-known for its pinot noir, and it was on sale for $13.00 or so. I had no knowledge of any scores it had received from any publications, no real knowledge of the producer–basically, I knew that it was from Carneros and that was it.
It was great and probably one of the better wines that I’ve had for under $20.00. That’s saying a lot for a pinot noir, as there aren’t a gaggle of good pinots available in this price range. I raved about it the whole night and the wine stuck in my head.
A few months later I was reading Matt Kramer on Wine: A Matchless Collection of Columns, Essays, and Observations by America’s Most Original and Lucid Wine Writer. Kramer writes for Wine Spectator and is one of my favorite wine writers. To my surprise, he had written an article in which he detailed the tasting of this wine (although a different vintage) with a skeptical Burgundy shipper and how they were both amazed with the quality and value of the wine. I was ecstatic that a writer of this stature was also impressed with the wine and for the first time, I felt that maybe I was starting to get it.
Heaven on Earth: Sipping some pinot noir with my wife while looking out over the Russian River and the vineyards that surround it.
My second aha moment was a completely different circumstance. By this time I trusted my palate, but it’s always nice to have a reaffirmation of your trust. The wine in question was, ironically, another pinot noir. I thought this particular pinot was pretty good, robust for a pinot, but pretty good. You can imagine my surprise when The Wine Advocate described this wine as “pretty”. When I think of pretty, I’m thinking along the lines of Natalie Portman. This particular pinot reminded me more of Chyna, the female wrestler (although I guess that some thought her pretty, as she did pose for a particular magazine of questionable repute). This moment really stuck with me. Rather than relent that I had whiffed on describing this wine, which I would have done a few years ago, I still stick to my guns that I was accurate on my assessment.
I’m certainly not saying that I’m anywhere near the level of Matt Kramer or the tasters for The Wine Advocate. I do feel that I’m at the point where I can confidently assess a wine.
If you are at the point where you trust your palate, great! For those who are still trying to get there, I have two very basic pieces of advice: taste a lot of different wines and write a tasting note for each one of them. It took a lot of practice and repetition for me to get comfortable with my tasting ability and to get to the point where I could publish my thoughts for the world to see. And it sure was fun (and still is) drinking all of that wine!