How To Perfect Your Palate…

Image of California sparkling wines.

Image via Wikipedia

I recently came across an article by Matt Kramer, of Wine Spectator, entitled “Palate Perfection” (to download the entire article, click here) .  According to the article…

“At first glance, you’d think that the idea of “perfecting your palate” involved acquiring greater tasting acuity…”

However, in this case, perfecting your palate is about “living” with a particular wine, learning everything you can about it, and buying as much of that wine as you can.  You might even visit where the grapes, which are made into the wine, are grown to get a sense of the place if you’re really into it (one of the benefits of being a wine lover is traveling in wine country.  I find it to be so beautiful and serene.  Voila – vacation/getaway plans taken care of!)

According to Kramer…

“Why is a process like this so essential? Because it’s only when you live with a wine over a reasonably long span of time that you begin to grasp not just its subtleties, but its possibilities. You acquire, sip by sip, week after week, an intimacy. This is something that you cannot achieve any other way.”

In Kramer’s case, he is doing it by having a glass of Tokaji nightly after dinner.  In my case, I’ve been doing it by drinking at least one bottle of sparkling wines on a weekly basis after my wife suggested it to me.  I’ve been doing this for the last 5 months, or so, and blogging about it (for the most recent blog in the “T.G.I.F Champagne…and the like” series click here)

Initially, the idea of “living with a particular wine” seemed counter-intuitive to me because I’m a “promiscuous” wine consumer.  I enjoy trying new wines all the time.  But now that I’ve been “faithful” to sparkling wine for a while, and in the process, have been “perfecting” my palate for sparkling wine, I can tell you the idea has merit.

My palate for sparkling wines is greatly improved.  I’m able to feel the difference in the creaminess of a sparkling wine’s mousse from wine to wine.  I can more readily discern, the size of the bubbles, and how long the bubbles last.  And not only am I learning which regions produce sparklers I prefer, I’m also learning what I prefer in a sparkler.  For example, I’m finding that I generally prefer Pinot Noir dominant sparklers to Chardonnay dominant sparklers, and Rose sparklers to non-Rose sparklers. These are all things I couldn’t have discerned by drinking a handful of sparklers on an annual basis, as I used to.  And all I’ve had to do is pop, pour and pay attention on a regular basis!

I’ve enjoyed the pursuit of perfecting my palate for sparklers and look forward to perfecting my palate with other wines too.  Given my affinity for food friendly wines, perfecting my palate for Beaujolais, or Santa Lucia Highland Pinots comes to mind, or maybe even better since I live in the Bay Area, Sonoma Coast, or Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots. I encourage you to give it a try!

Lodi Old Vines….

Recently, while on our way back to the Bay Area from Sacramento, we made a stop in Lodi, which is a small AVA northeast of the Bay Area, to do some wine tasting. Lodi is most acclaimed for its Old Vine Zinfandels. It was a beautiful winter day so, between wineries, we stopped to take some photos of the vineyards. One of the things I appreciate about the “wine lifestyle” is the opportunity to see the seasons manifest in the vineyards. And, unless we taste at urban wineries, the vineyards and the surrounding countryside always provide such a beautiful backdrop to wine tasting.

Certainly, the vineyards are beautiful in spring and summer when in full bloom, but I also find something hauntingly majestic about vineyards when they are at rest in the winter. There is a stark contrast between gnarly “Old Vines” as pictured below, and the neatly trellised vines so often seen in wine country.

Lodi, CA - Old Vines - Photography by Martin Redmond

While there, we bought a bottle of 2008 Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel (Vines average 85 years old – I’d say that qualifies 😉

I think it’s important to note there is no objective definition of “Old Vines”. When I’ve posed the question at wineries that produce Old Vine Zinfandel, the most consistent answer has been vines more than 40 years old (at least here in California). That sounds about right to me. And that’s my personal standard for evaluating whether a wine with the “Old Vine” designation is a pretender or a contender.

So what’s the difference between Old Vines and young vines? According to Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator…

“The deep roots of old vines are their greatest asset. In a rainy harvest, a young vine’s shallow root system sucks up surface water, bloating the grapes and diluting the juice. Yet old vines are often surprisingly unaffected, as their deeper roots are untouched by the passing rainstorm. And in drought conditions those same deep roots can tap into water reserves in the subsoil unreachable by younger vines.

That deep root system also results in consistent production of evenly ripened grapes from vintage to vintage. And presumably Old Vines produce smaller yields which results in wines of greater structure, concentration, and complexity. Some would say Old Vines wines also age better, developing a more layered complexity over time. Unfortunately, I may never know. Whenever I purchase an Old Vines wine it never lasted longer than a couple of years in my cellar!

I believe Old Vines can make a positive difference provided the vines are in a good site, and the winemaker skillfully makes the wine. What do you think? Have you had wine sourced from “Old Vines”?


You might also be interested in:

If It Says “Old Vines,” Will You Buy? (Wine Spectator)

Old Vines, What’s the big deal? (Barossa Dirt…True Tales and Twisted Vines)