Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cross-Training for Your Palate

About six weeks ago I read a wonderful article by one of my favorite wine writers, Jancis Robinson, that talked about "cellar palate" among wine-makers, a phrase that is commonly used to describe what happens when a maker tastes too much of her or his own wine and not enough that comes from beyond arm's reach. She linked cellar palate to the adaptation of a writer's or consumer's palate to local flavors and styles of wine making. Whether its drinking wine from only one region, one vintage, one maker, or made with only one grape, this narrowness of focus may have benefits in terms of expertise. But Robinson contended that it also leads to a diminished ability to detect elements of wines such as high acid, or under-ripe fruit, or high alcohol. (image from Blue Dog Yoga)

The way to keep your palate sharp and flexible is to vary the wines that you drink, from high acid whites to mellow, aged red beauties. You need to "drink globally" as Robinson put it, too. Try alternating your Rhone reds with one or two from Paso Robles, so you can learn how different winemakers and different places produce very different wines with the same grape. Even if you're a bargain hunter like me, throw an expensive bottle into the mix once a year, just to see what it tastes like. Practicing the old chestnut that "variety is the spice of life" will help you to appreciate all that the wine world has to offer.

If you have a tart sauvignon blanc and a mellow, peppery syrah you can see how varying your wine diet can help you to perceive elements in each wine that you may have taken for granted, or even missed. Open both bottles and take a sip of the sauvignon blanc. You will probably taste something fresh, crisp, and refreshing with lots of citrus. Then take a sip of the syrah. It will seem so rich, opulent, peppery, and even velvety, that you might think this is the best syrah you've ever tasted (even if it isn't). Now go back to the sauvignon blanc. It will probably strike you with its cleanness, you will smell grassy notes or herbs even if you didn't before, and the citrus may now be more precise like "meyer lemon" or "lime."

Palates need cross-training just as much as quadriceps do. Keeping your palate sharp and in good shape will benefit every wine you drink. Even if you want to stick to nothing but California zinfandels for most of your drinking, take time out every now and again for a complete break--a muscadet, a chenin blanc, a riesling. You may never become an avowed white wine drinker, but you will go back to your zinfandel with freshly-honed taste buds ready to accept every plummy, cherry, and cracked black pepper note. The same goes if you "only drink whites." If you aren't trying a red every now and again, your palate will get flabby and over-familiar with the wines that are in your comfort zone.

Promise yourself that you'll drink one wine that challenges your palate between now and January 11, 2008. If you've got a blog, post about your experiences there. If you don't, feel free to post it here in the comments. On January 11 I'll post about how I stretched my palate, and you can add your experiences to those comments, too. Let's face it: this is the most fun "fitness" activity you're likely to engage in between now and then!


Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Debs
That is funny the article sparked a post for you as it did for me about a month ago. haha Your comparisons to exercise are great, I really enjoyed the post. (although enjoying your posts are becoming a regular occurence)
See ya

Anything Wine

Anonymous said...

Neat idea! Maybe I can figure out some type of tie-in with my wine flexing and my spinning instructing? Certainly gets the thoughts brewing.

Anonymous said...

I think that all Erika needs to do is to fill her water bottle with a different varietal wine, from different regions, each time she teaches spinning.

Sonadora said...

Don't have to ask me twice to try new wines! :)

Eddie Howard said...

Great post. I'm looking forward to my workout. Drinking wine is definitely my favorite form of exercise.

Unknown said...

Despite my ready predilection for California wines, I've been aware for some time that I should drink globally, if only to experience what the world has to offer. Now I have a new imperative!

Dr. Debs said...

Great! I think it will be fun, and the bar is low--just try something outside your comfort zone and see what it does for your appreciation of the wines you drink on a more regular basis.

RougeAndBlanc said...

What a great exercise to end the year. With all the parties coming up, this will be a fun challange.

Dr. Debs said...

R and B, glad to have you on board. Will be interested to hear how you do.