Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Palate and What I “Taste”

First off, I’ll just state one simple truth: I do not pretend to be objective when I taste wine or when I write tasting notes. Now let me explain as there are certain things that I am simply predisposed to not liking:

Nonsense Labels (unless there is good reason to review them). I think that gimmicks are just that – gimmicks. So if you are going to make a wine, put it in a bottle with a label that has nothing to do with nothing except selling cases, then you best have a pretty damn good bottle of wine and an even better price. Prove to me why I need to spend my money on this wine and I’ll make sure to let everyone know.

Wines that don’t really have a Sense of Place. I like terroir. I like wines that taste different. I like unique and interesting choices, and whenever I am given the choice I’ll go for the unique, different, distinct with the hope that they will help me to better understand a certain region or educate me better about a certain grape varietal. Wines that tend toward the “middle” of the flavor/taste spectrum are boring – just like politicians that trend toward the middle on everything. The idea is that by being in the middle they appeal to the broadest range of people. Unfortunately that is a very boring way of looking at things and a very dull place to exist. I like to look around the edges a bit and see what’s happening outside the box and (hopefully) discover wines, people and places that I do not know enough about. Have some guts with your wine making and tell me who you are and where you come from.

Wine with Faults. In this day and age we are so far down the tech road that to make a wine that doesn’t at least have the decency to be good just doesn’t make sense to me, and it simply will not sell - so why bother? Clean, knowledgeable winemaking is going on everywhere and even the most basic and least expensive wines can have acceptable minimum quality standards. Even “traditional” winemaking is so well understood these days that faults are essentially inexcusable. Keep the TCA, Brett and VA out of my wine and I’ll thank you for it. Make sure your shippers and distributors maintain the wine in sound condition and I’’ call you a hero.

What I do like to taste and what My Palate tends to find favor with…
Balance, Flavor, Identity, Integrity

Balance – wines with balanced components are definitely a big hit with me. In fact, this is a very in-thing to say right now, but it is so true that I am willing throw myself on the fire with the rest. Over the years I have never been taken with big huge monster wines with rippin’ tannins and inky color so dark that if you spill one drop it will never come out of my clothes. What I have been enamored with over the years are wines that show harmonious interaction between the various components. You can have searing acid (or rippin’ tannins, tooth-aching sweetness, or monstrous alcohol levels), but please make sure that the rest of the components are playing strong supporting roles. If you make a sweet wine, leave some acidity in the wine to keep it in check. This is the key to great wine making and is what I hear a lot of winemakers speak of; not all of them understand it though.

Flavor – I like to “taste” wine. Sounds simple but unfortunately there are a lot of wines made today with “holes” in them. Hollow spots where the winemaking simply did not live up to its goal of making wines that taste good with complete identities. Too many wines are bland, lack complexity or even a certain level of flavor. How can you show some me your identity if I can’t even taste you? Aromatics, palate flavor, flavor on the finish – I want it all. Yes there are certain wines and styles that are lower in aromatics or just aren’t supposed to be as robust as others, but there are also too many “clean” winemaking techniques these days that strip wines of their identity – don’t kill it, just make sure there are no faults.

Identity – I like terroir (see above) and I like to be able to identify things like grape variety, region of origin, the producer’s personality or thoughts in winemaking, or anything else interesting about a wine. Make it shine, make it shine, all I ask is to make it shine. I don’t want some thin that tastes like it came from a factory – unless it priced like a factory wine.

Integrity – big or small, I will find favor with a winemaker/producer if they are simply honest. Making a wine for the masses – great, but tell me it’s for the masses through fair prices. Don’t try to fool me with factory wine that is priced and labeled to look like it came from a small estate or domaine. Also, just because you are from a small estate or domaine doesn’t automatically mean you know how to make great wine – prove it.

I have always thought that I have an average palate when it comes to tasting. What sets me apart is that I have spent years training my palate and my mind to properly break-down and asses the wines I am reviewing. I will never get flowery with my tasting notes, but I will describe what comes to mind and what I find favor with in a wine. To me there are two critically important rules to follow in evaluating a wine: 1 – be honest, 2 – keep it simple.

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