Changing tastes across the palates

As promised, we are going to explore "taste" in wine this week. As I mentioned last week, so much of what we get in a glass of wine comes from the vineyard.

Good management is key to fine wine. Everything from canopy management to pruning can make or break a vintage for a winery.

Secondly, the weather for that season is big, maybe the biggest of all the factors in the taste of wine. We cannot predict weather in any way, but the winemakers have to deal with every hour of every growing season day and look to the skies for forgiveness.

After the grapes are harvested, the winemaker does his or her job as best as they can in order to fulfill the winery promise; the final glass of great wine.

As a commercial wine judge, I have seen remarkable taste differences in wines made from the same grapes. I remember at one judging 10 Chardonnay sitting in front of me, and during the 30 minutes of tasting and re-tasting, these wines all seemed to be so very different in the nose, taste and finish. To compound the problem (and it was a problem) the wine seemed to change moment from moment as the wines aired in the glass. Let's look at this closer.

Everything changes &

what we find in tasting wine, or in tasting any type of cuisine, the longer one lets the wine/cuisine sit, the more the item changes. In wine, the longer we allow the glass to be presented to the air, the more the little rascal moves along on the taste chart.

Wine is supposed to turn, ultimately, into vinegar. If we leave a glass of wine on the table for a few days we can sense the funk in the wine pretty quickly. If we sit the glass on the table for a week or so, phew, vinegar! So it is in a tasting or judging. Within a few minutes wine begins to change rapidly and so we must change with the wine and accept its movement, to a point. It is very important to understand this change and deal with it, whether the change comes from a bottle sitting open on the table or from the wine aging in the cellar.

Swirl a glass of wine and let the wine open to your nose. Grab a glass that is round at the bottom and fairly closed at the top. This swirling is important, not unlike crushing a rose pedal between your fingers. The fragrance moves with this agitation from the bottom of the glass to the nose through this small opening. Yum! Swirling is a very important technique in wine evaluation.

There are more than a few taste sensations on the palate, but I will explore with you three sensations: front palate, mid palate and aftertastes or back palate.

The front palate is when the wine hits the palate and the rush of fruit sensations appear. The swirling of the wine in the mouth at this time accentuates the fruit sensations and the wine can literally explode in the mouth. This is where we feel (for example) the big Zinfandels and Syrahs, the powerhouse fruit flavors and jam that these, among other wines, display.

In the mid palate, as the wine lays on the palate, we get the tactile sensation of wine. This sensation is also called "grip" and lets us know if the wine is a wimp or whether the wine has some backbone. It is amazing to find wine with great front-palate juice bomb flavors, then the juice fades to nothing on the mid palate. More than one wine has lost a medal at a competition for this lack of mid-palate weight.

When a wine displays great fruit and solid grip with mouth-filling flavors, we have two thirds of the equation. The back palate is where the wine shows its breeding.

Length, where the wine flavors do not drop off, is crucial to a great wine. The back palate also shows us where the heat (alcohol) resides besides what we can get through the nose. Heat, length, silk and lingering flavors are the home of the back palate and this, I think, is the deciding factor in fine wine making. This is also the home of any telltale off flavors, such as astringency or tannin load, which can simply ruin a glass of wine.

So there you have the simple but straightforward approach to tasting. See you next week!

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