Is a Great Wine Palate God Given, Learned or Bought?

nice read from wsj

Thoughts please… [cheers.gif]

I think the article misses the mark for what I consider a great palate. For me, someone with a great palate can taste a wine and pretty accurately determine the variety/varietal makeup, vineyard, winemaker and sometimes even vintage The author seems to think writing good tasting notes means you have a great palate.

Sums it up. Taste, taste , taste.
“…does think a palate could be improved, especially by repeated and focused tasting. “If you have lots of experience with particular smells, you might be able to pick them out better,” he said.”

A little of bit of all three. Like many things in life it takes skill, luck and a lot of hard work. And it never hurts to have God on your side.


I agree that experience is very important developing a palate for wine. But I also think the “god given” ability to taste is equally important. Do you think people can detect more detailed flavor profile by repetitively tasting the same wine? or the amount of flavors people can detect is limited by their “god given” palate.

I agree that experience is very important developing a palate for wine. But I also think the “god given” ability to taste is equally important. Do you think people can detect more detailed flavor profile by repetitively tasting the same wine? or the amount of flavors people can detect is limited by their “god given” palate.

You have to define what you mean by “palate”. As the article points out, discerning things is not the same thing as identifying something. For example, you can discern a horrible flavor, you might not identify it as Pinotage.

You can improve both. Most people in the US don’t taste very carefully. Not just wine but everything. Food scientists know that all they have to do is mix up some fat, sugar, and salt and people will eat it up. So all fast food is some combination of those. Starbucks sells coffee as a delivery mechanism for gobs of sweet syrup and whipped cream, and of course the muffins and scones to go with it.

So you can become much more discerning simply by paying attention to what you eat. There has been an improvement of the American palate in my lifetime - there is now much better cheese, tea, coffee, bread, pastry, etc., available in many places than there was maybe 30 years ago. But I think that’s limited to certain people because there is also crap like Pringles, Oreos, frozen dinners, Diet Coke, etc., that seems to be selling really well. So first thing is to simply pay attention to everything you put in your mouth. If you can stomach the idea of eating a Snickers bar, taste it really carefully. Feel the waxy fat coating the roof of your mouth, get the harsh sugar rush as the corn syrup invades your mouth, note the lack of any chocolate flavors from the brown coating, and then spit it out and write a tasting note.

Do that with everything and you become much more discerning. I’m really skeptical of wine drinkers who claim to find a million flavors in their glass but who happily otherwise happily ingest the indigestible.

Then there’s recognition. Tasting memory is simply pattern recognition. You remember someone’s face, you remember a piece of music, and you remember the taste of a particular wine. If you drink enough, you can remember the taste of one while you’re tasting another and you can compare. It’s exactly like listening to 2 songs, or two versions of the same song. The more you taste, the bigger your memory bank. It’s where blind tasting is extremely valuable if you get to do it enough. People come up with bullshit like “it’s a parlor trick” or something like that. Not at all. It’s simply pattern recognition. Your brain creates taste patterns just like it creates visual patterns and brain scans indicate that they create cranial activity in very similar ways.

It’s like anything else. At some point someone eats his first piece of cheese. Then another. After a while, the person can distinguish Asiago from Gruyere from Stilton. Then Stilton from Gorgonzola. Then, if they try enough, different Gorgonzola from different farms and from different times of the year from different milk. Same with wine. If you taste monovarietal wine, you learn the flavor of one grape vs another and eventually you learn the hand of one wine maker vs another, one vineyard vs another, etc.

All you need to do is remember to pay attention and to taste as much as you can. In the end some people will be better than others, just as some people can see farther, hear better, etc., but everyone can improve and become pretty good.

And writing lots of tasting notes, or detailed notes, has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not one has a “good palate”. In fact, sometimes I think it’s just the opposite. Someone writes a half page on a particular wine, you think man, that person can pick out that wine with laser accuracy any time he tastes it. But in reality, that’s rarely the case.

As far as bought goes - that’s hilarious and pretty true. I’ve known a few people who got into wine, found out they were supposed to like something, say Burgundy, and went out and bought a lot of it. I’d suppose there are people like that on this board too.

Doing that, you can certainly learn to recognize the various producers and vintages of your particular region of interest. You can even develop a discerning palate. You can become more discerning and more able to identify things.

You will also have a very limited palate, which is a completely different thing from having a “good palate”.

You can’t have a “great palate” unless you possess the ability to distinguish between violets and crushed violets. [snort.gif]

I think the article begs the question somewhat, since you need to ask the purpose of the “great palate.” For example, there’s the ability to taste and identify wines blindly. Some people think that identifying wines blindly is a sign of a “great palate,” but it’s really a parlor game based largely on the taster’s depth of experience with the kind of wine being tasted. And it’s not really a practical skill, unless you live in a place where you will be killed by terroir-ists unless you can correctly identify a wine served blindly.

To me, the first and foremost attribute of a “great palate” is someone who can taste and describe a wine in a fashion that is useful to someone else who isn’t tasting the wine at the same time. This means not simply coming up with 30 different, somewhat abstract descriptors for each wine. Rather, an ability to taste and identify issues such as aroma, fruit/acid balance, mouthfeel, quality/quantity of tannins, etc. in a way that it makes sense to someone else.


Isn’t a “great palate” someone who likes the wines you like? I’m only half joking. To me, someone could be an expert at describing and distinguishing all the modern California Cabs, or (for my tastes) all the high end modern CdPs, but that wouldn’t persuade me they have a great palate, because those wines aren’t in my wheelhouse.

Great palate or great tasting note writer?

I tend to the view that ‘great palates’ are merely over-publicised palates.

I think it is part God-given, part learned. If you are female, you already have the upper hand! [stirthepothal.gif]

The learned part comes from being able to discern nuance in anything you taste, be it wine, food, or a cocktail, for instance. This is evident in picking out certain flavors in a dish - being able to recognize herbs, spices, etc. The same goes for wine, not only in flavors but also flaws. The more experience you have, the easier it is to pick out individual aromas/flavors. Using a tool like “Le Nez du Vin” is a great way to train your nose.

I’ve heard that you can’t have a great palate until you’ve become a 50+ yr old white male.

I think a few people are born with a striking ability to taste, and everyone else can improve their tasting ability by practicing a lot.

I think people who can blind taste well are people who can taste well, I don’t understand disparaging that ability. I think it’s a good goal.

The ones that disparage it likely cannot do it. Kinda like a 4x4 with a 12" lift kit.

When did the white male bit come into it :slight_smile:

Could be.

I had a great palate, then God took it away from me when he crashed my head into that stupid mountain in Argentina. I have been slowly retraining it.

Punishment for hubris?

Sorry, David, couldn’t resist.

One of the best blind tasters I know is also one of the best winemakers i know. The other is one of the best chefs I know. That makes a lot of sense to me. A good chef, like a good winemaker, knows the ingredients will vary, so you need to be able to identify and adjust accordingly. You do that by deconstructing the attributes of a component, as in “these tomatoes are a bit less savory and more fruity than usual, so…” In winemaking there are many choices to make along the way, finishing with barrel selection and blending. If you aren’t good at understanding what you’re dealing with, how are you going to make good choices?

Are you saying it’s not just a matter of laboratory analysis?