You Gotta Have “Palate Faith”
Have you noticed the sheer number of books that are written every year that are essentially there to tell you what you taste? Magazines too. Wine magazines and newsletters and food publications essentially exist to tell you what things taste like.
Sure, there’s info on why things taste the way they do and what tastes best combined with what and how to make things taste a certain way. But in the end, food and wine writing is all about talking about what you taste.
When you consider that no two people have ever tasted the same thing with any guarantee they are experiencing it the same way, you realize that a great deal of "Palate Faith" is implied.
They may tell us that the 2000 Chateau Lafite has an intensity of blackberry aromas and rich, fruit forward flavors with hints of meat and sage. But what exactly is the writer talking about? My impression of the taste of sage might be entirely different than the writers. But I’ll never know that for sure. I can’t taste through his buds.
This becomes an increasingly problematic situation when you consider we read a number of folks using the term "sage" in relation to other wines, foods and ingredients…not to mention the actual sage leaf.
We simply trust that we are experiencing the same thing as the writers of recipes, reviewers of wine and friends with whom we share a meal with or for whom we prepare a meal.
Why, I think it is fair to ask of me, am I bring up this somewhat arcane observation? Well, I just tasted a wine that I loved. It was a Pinot Noir from California from the 1997 vintage. Upon tasting it, drinking it, and really liking it I started to look up other’s observations of this wine. I found three recent tasting notes. None of them sounded like the same wine and worst of all none of the three described the wine I drank.
In fact, one reviewer described a definite bitter quality in the finish while another detected a sweet note in the finish
One writer described ripe strawberry as the dominant fruit aroma. A second writer described the aroma as primarily blackberry. Yet, I can promise you that the main aromas was CLEARLY Bing Cherry!
One writer described the wine having a robust, moderately tannic structure. Another described the wine as velvety and smooth.
There’s a lesson here.
I think that lesson is that if you read wine reviews to get an idea of what a wine is like in order to decide what to buy, you are best off finding two or perhaps three reviewers who you can calibrate your palate with and not spend too much time with other reviewers. It will just complicate the process.
The other alternative is to simply assume that everyone’s experiences the flavors and aromas of wine the very same way. This is sort of like the faith it takes to embrace religion. You need a lot of Palate Faith to take this route.