Sharpening Your Palate

“There is almost this fetishized idea of having, quote-A good palate, right, as if what makes you a good eater is the ability to detect the three grains of cumin … and sure, yeah a sensitivity like that is good but what I think having a good palate is about is just being able to talk about what you are tasting.” – Francis Lam, Splendid Table, Ep. 641

Learning to talk about what you are tasting is learning to link what you smell and taste with the aromas and tastes that you experience. As we go through life, our palates evolve. Our tastes change, which is why you may have hated brussel sprouts as a kid but love them now! Or why your first sip of IPA was horrid, but not you are a committed hop head. When eating and drinking during normal life, there are several ways to develop your palate (and google will turn up plenty of detailed explainations), we like the old cliche to just “Stop and smell the roses.”

For wine, there is a simple 4 step process that, despite what appears to be a lot of ceremony, is very easy to grasp and will help everyone to improve their wine palate. The steps are:

  1. Look: What color is it? Is it clear or opaque? Does it have sediment?
  2. Smell: While breathing through your nose, identify aromas. Is it fruity? herbal? earthy? floral? Does it smell strongly or is it faint?
  3. Taste: Assess both its structure (sour, bitter, sweet) and its flavors (fruit, herbal, earthy, etc.). Also, checking for texture and length.
  4. Think: This is how you store memories of the wine in your long-term memory. Was it correctly made? Was it in balance? Did you like it? Was it unique? Etc.

The last step is where taking notes is very useful because even if the notes are in a personal shorthand, they will often be enough to remind you of the details that you can’t recall immediately.

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