The Wierd Case of Palate Synchronization

I like counting. I like the simple, elegant, structured and definite results you get from counting.

Combine this counting fetish I have with my appreciation for criticism and you can understand why I like valuating various rating systems and results of wine rating systems.

Today for some reason I started thinking about the highest rated recently released wines in the world. That though brought me to The Wine Spectator Magazine where, using their database of wine ratings, I learned something I think is remarkable and that I did not know:

Kosta Browne is clearly one of the greatest wineries in the WORLD…according to the wine spectator. KB wines released from the 2000 to 2006 vintage have received 95 points or higher from the Wine Spectator no less than 13 times. 13 TIMES!! 13 DIFFERENT WINES

Only four other wineries in the world have achieve this or better: Chapoutier, Guigal, Kracher and J. Wegelen Erber.

I’d had Kosta Brown wines before. I just never formed an impression about them. So I went out and bought one: 2005 Kosta Browne Amber Ridge Pinot Noir–Russian River Valley. This wine as ranked 95 points by Jim Laube, who wrote:

"Dense and backward, this is tightly wound and structured, yet the core
of earthy cherry and wild berry is deeply concentrated, and the flavors
keep unfolding on the palate. Ends with firm tannins, but also a burst
of espresso-laced fruit. Drink now through 2011."

Now, I don’t know about 2011, but this wine tastes EXACTLY like Mr. Laube describes it. I wouldn’t have given this wine 95 points. But as many of you know I don’t review wines on this blog. So my score is another matter.

But what’s really interesting is this: Upon writing down my notes for this wine in my handy-dandy notebook, I went to the Wine Spectator site to look up the review printed above. Then I went back to my review in my note book. Check this out:

"Dense", "Tight" "heavy earth notes", "ripe cherry", "blackberry shell", "Tannic", "Coffee-finish"

Now compare those snippets from my notes with Mr. Laube’s….Is that weird or what?

I’ve actually never noticed my notes being SO perfectly aligned with those of any critic. Frankly it startled me and I started to consider notions of "base flavors", palate synchronization, and coincidence. I’ve met and spoken with with Jim Laube a number of times, but it’s not like we taste together on a regular basis, something that can result in palate synchronization.

I’ll be going back and looking at the notes I’ve taken for a number of other wines I’ve reviewed  and compare them with reviews for the same wines by Laube and other critics. My initial suspicion is that I won’t find anything like this kind of identical description. But imagine if I did.

How amazingly useful would it be if one’s palate regularly tasted the exact same characteristics in a wine that a particular wine critic  tasted? It would not matter at all if you APPRECIATED the same characteristics. Just being able to read a critics review and understanding it completely would be an enormous advantage when it came to buying wines you’ve never tasted yourself.

11 Responses

  1. Randy Hall - August 17, 2007

    Very cool, Tom. You even kinda look like him. Separated at birth?

  2. Alder Yarrow - August 17, 2007

    Heh heh. Maybe Jim will send you a check!
    That’s interesting.

  3. el jefe - August 18, 2007

    I have a viognier that has such a strong apricot flavor that I can’t imagine any other reviewer would not use “apricot” in their description.
    If that wine had a strong coffee flavor on the finish, seems to me that it’s because those flavor compounds are present – and that anyone who is not taste-impaired would also taste them.

  4. mousie/paisible - August 18, 2007

    first time I visit…gosh, so many things to read, that’s great…a retired mousie has plenty of time…found your blog through that one
    so young men…I pick up my dictionnary (am Franch)and start reading…better put the computer near the bed, in case I get too drunk…what do you say, we can’t taste!!!what a pity…never mind I’ll get myself a pot of tea and go on reading…
    must keep that address

  5. Richard Shaffer - August 20, 2007

    My kids have better palates than me for sure!
    They seem able to taste more and various things than I can.
    Having said that, it’s exciting when you simultaneously announce and agree with someone elese on a certain aroma accessible in a wine.

  6. Dino - August 20, 2007

    You may be synchronized, but, obviously, you are not calibrated if you wouldn’t score this wine a 95.

  7. Scamp - August 20, 2007

    Well, heck, I think that speaks less to your synchronized sense of taste than it does Laube’s ability to produce an objective, reliable wine description. Heartening to think that there might be a science to this business of tasting notes, rather than merely an art!

  8. Erika Strum - August 21, 2007

    This is what it’s all about- finding a reviewer whose tastes are aligned with yours. One person’s review may mean bupkis if you don’t have the same taste or recognize the same flavors and aromas.

  9. Jim Gordon - August 21, 2007

    Tom: Your palates — that is, your ability to discern tastes in wine and to communicate them — may be similar to Laube’s, but it’s not an accident. I agree with El Jefe. I think that experienced tasters who have tasted widely among connoisseurs and industry people absorb a vocabulary and tasting expertise that then results in similar descriptions. I think he’s got you beat on mustaches, though.

  10. buntmarker - August 27, 2007

    An equally amazing synchronicity with Mr. Laube happened to me just a few years ago. I walked into a Yountville restaurant, to wait for some wealthy winemakers who were going to pay for my lunch. My dog, a setter, was waiting in my 89 Accord, parked across the street in the shade. As I entered, I noticed Mr. Laube, seated, apparently about to enjoy lunch. My friends (well, actually, my boss and his friends) arrived, we sat, we ordered, we began going through the wines assembled for evaluation. Midway through the meal/tasting, I heard a commotion in the front of the restaurant, and the words “black”, “dog”, “running loose”, and “call sheriff” wafted back to my ear. They were clear, they were unmistakable, they could mean only one thing. My dog had escaped, and the law was hot on his trail. As I bolted from the restaurant in a shower of spilled wine and flying silver, my fledgeling career vanished before my eyes. My elitist Napa Winemaker costume was to be publicly stripped from me to reveal 190 pounds of undereducated, social-climbing white trash, standing, quivering, naked and humiliated, in the middle of Washington Street, holding his dog.
    Never mind that, though. I had to find my dog before the Sheriff did. I ran around the restaurant, the next restaurant, the next, and next, and finally, into neighboring yards, screaming, not too desperately, or loudly, my dog’s name. It was no use. Forlorn, dejected, suicidal, sweating profusely, I returned to the restaurant. As I entered, who but James Laube should meet me at the door. As my mind reeled, vainly attempting to assemble a mere two or three words with which to address one of the most powerful people in my world, HE SPOKE. HE queried, “Is this your large black dog that was running around loose in the street?” I looked down. By the collar, HE held a large, black dog. My dog. “Yes,” I croaked, “that is my large black dog who was running around in the street”. HE asked “That’s a Gordon Setter, isn’t it?” “Yes, it’s a Gordon Setter” I concurred. He passed the dog to me by the collar. Our hands touched. Our eyes met. James Laube and I were grooving, absolutely agreeing on this one truth, in total synchronicity. The Dynamic Winemaking Matrix collapsed around us, and we became as one, one incredibly brief, amazingly bright, point of light. Every wine geek in Yountville was temporarily blinded by the flash. A flash like lightning striking.
    …so, was it kinda like that for you, too, Tom?

  11. Tom Wark - August 27, 2007

    Yes, kinda like that but without the dog.

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