I always say that Kevin has the more sensitive palate between the two of us. But I don’t know if that’s true anymore. I think, perhaps, he’s better able to dispel preconceived notions about a wine, and he’s not worried about what people might think.
Generally, when we taste wine together, I look to him to set the tone of what we might taste in the wine. Berries? Okay. Oily? Well, maybe. But I let him take the lead. He’s always able to find something when I’m often shy about it, coming up with "grapey." If I know the wine is a shiraz from Australia, I might say, "Is it high alcohol?" A cabernet from California leads me to say something along the lines of "fruit forward, lots of big berries." Why? Because this is what I expect from these wines. I let my preconceived notions get in my way.
Tim & I have been worrying a little about a Sonoma blind tasting in which we’ll be participating at the Wine Bloggers Conference. We’ll be asked to identify appellations, vintages, and so on. Tim was probably worrying about that type of thing. Me? I was worrying that I’d sound like an idiot. I was discussing this, after a fashion, with Mike on Saturday. And that’s when I had my epiphany. I’m fine if I taste blind.
Kevin and I have served as wine judges several times this year. It’s a great gig – I can’t believe people pay us for this. But my favorite time was also the one I was the most nervous about – the time I judged without Kevin. I couldn’t rely on his sensitive palate and had to trust my own. I knew only that a wine was "cabernet" but I knew no other specifics about the wine, including vintage and vineyard. It was fantastic. It took me a little time to get comfortable in my own skin, er, palate, but I did it. In fact, Ron Barrett from Kinkead Ridge actually complimented me on my palate, which surprised me. I trust his judgement, so I considered that a rather high compliment.
But it comes down to a couple things: Trust yourself. You don’t have to understand everything about the wine world to know if you taste a strawberry or a barnyard. So go with what you’re feeling, and go with your initial impressions. It’s also okay to revise. The wine in your glass is changing every minute it’s open. That strawberry might lead to a blueberry.
And host a blind tasting. Whether its you and some friends or a great big party, do it. Have everyone bring some wine, put it into paper bags with numbers, and have everyone write down what they think of the wine. I bet, like me, you’ll discover that your palate is more sensitive than you thought. Blind tastings bring an anonymity to the wine that removes those preconceived notions.
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