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Education,Twice,Wine,Wine tasting

Well, if you’re not a super palate, I don’t expect you to get it

Super palate… yeah, if you don’t have one, don’t try to tell anyone who does how we learned to enjoy wine.

There are rumblings out there about how people learn to enjoy wine. They break it down into their own scientific theories, and that’s just what they are… Theories, not a complete determination, because they exclude my super palate process… They fluff me off as… fluff. Yeah, wrong…

I wrote the following below and actually had one person try to debunk my own personal journey. Also, this is a guy, so did he ever nurse anyone to understand that process? Did he raise three kids and follow their palates? Doubt it.

But, everyone has to have a shtick… and he’s found his.  And, I’m fine with his theories, just don’t call them complete facts and try to debunk others who had a different journey. Perhaps this is how it’s worked for him, but not for me. And, I take umbrage in someone else telling me I’m wrong, when I know – in my own journey – I’m right.

So, here’s how this super palate learned to enjoy wine. Then, as a wine educator, I’ve found many others admitting the same process. Mine is also a theory. The difference between the two theories is one allows for other theories, and the other is supposed to be the Bible.

What blows a hole in his statement of fact

That all super palates will gravitate toward sweeter wines…

No, that’s quite wrong for me. My palate followed the following progression. And I enjoy all fine wines that are in balance, not just the sweet ones, as this other person has stated as fact.

Progression of a Super Palate, as I know it

Who among us is willing to admit that it was White Zinfandel that originally rocked our world?

I am. I admit it. White Zin switched on my light bulb.

It was on a trip to California, as a native of Maine on holiday in wine country. Actually, it was deeper than a “holiday.” Jose and his boss were determined to move our family to California, so his company brought me here for a week of adventure. It only took one day in San Francisco to change my mind, but I still had seven more days. They were spent in San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Napa, Sacramento, Chico, Lake Tahoe, Monterey, and Santa Cruz.

Honestly that’s enough to drive anyone to enjoy a bit of wine along the way, so we began in Napa at Robert Mondavi (for which I later became a wine educator), and then we went to Sutter Home.

It was completely at Sutter Home that I lost my heart to wine through White Zinfandel, and my palate changed forever.

Before WZ, I was merely tasting wine, trying to understand what the big deal was… Ordering and buying Merlot. (Wasn’t everybody?) I was pretending that all was well. It wasn’t. I really didn’t get what this wine thing was all about. I was raised like so many others, with Manaschewitz as our holiday wine. There were no other options for me to learn about wine as a liquid beverage to be enjoyed with food, family, and friends as a moderate daily beverage. (Not knocking Manaschewitz… It just didn’t do much for me as a kid, because it wasn’t mixed with water, as so many European families do for their children’s appreciation learning curve.)

In my “beginning to drink wine years,” when everyone was drinking wine but it wasn’t the topic of discussion, I was having wine with friends, but not enjoying the tannins. Everyone else seemed to be okay, so I pretended that I enjoyed the wine, too. I was fooling myself in the process, though, because I thought I was supposed to like it. Everyone else did, and I didn’t want to be the odd person out, so I went along with the masses.

So, there I was… part of the crowd, having (not enjoying) wine. It wasn’t any kind of a cerebral thing. It was just a social mannerism for not wanting to be a misfit. There was no magic, but plenty of illusion.

Then came Sutter Home. I asked the question that most likely gets asked there (at least once a day), “If it’s pink, why is it called White Zinfandel?” White Zinfandel is perhaps where I should have really started ever so many years before Mateus and the Chianti bottles, which made such great candle holders after the parties were over and the drips down the bottle lingered as an art form.

Why did White Zin put me over the edge so quickly? It’s so, so simple, once it hit me.

[This image is the property of Ludovic Goubet, and was the actual inspiration for this blog posting. It reminded me of very tender moments with my girls.]

When a child is born into the world, a mother who practices natural life will hold that baby in her arms, perhaps a tear will trickle down her cheek as she looks at the miracle that she’s now holding outside of her body, as a marvel that is a life form that’s come from within her womb.

The very next step is to hold that child to her bosom and give that infant it’s first taste of life… Colostrum. This is a high carbohydrate food, with small amounts of lactose. Within three days, however, mother’s milk kicks in and “Hallelujah, here comes the nectar of the gods!” From that point forward, that child may go five months with nothing more than mother’s milk, that’s quite sweet (lactose).

Next, water is introduced. (I remember my girls letting that one drip down their chins with a look of, “Huh?” on their faces.)

And then it becomes juice. That’s an “Aha!” moment.

As children get introduced to their peers, Kool Aid and soda are offered. When late teens get hang out with someone who’s either legal or has a fake ID, beer seems to be their preferred next step. After this one, wine becomes part of the mix.

Have you notice that until I wrote “wine,” it was all a lactose/sucrose/fructose evolution?

That’s what gave me my “Aha!” moment with White Zin… The residual sugar that finally made wine palatable for me, and I know I’m not alone, here.

Do I enjoy White Zin as my wine of choice now? Not really, but I do enjoy dry rosés. I don’t mind a bit of residual sugar in floral wines like Rieslings and Gewurztraminers, and I still appreciate what White Zin did for my palate. Late harvests and Sauternes are a trip. And, how about those Ice Wines and Ports!

I’ve gone from White Zin to Petite Sirah, as the founder and executive director of that group. That’s a huge leap, which tells me if I can do it, so will many people segue from White Zin to at least a great Chardonnay; if not more intriguing wines, like a superior Pinot Noir from the Santa Cruz Mountains or Burgundy.

Who can deny the beauty of this process at any stage?

Cheers to your health!

6 Responses to “Well, if you’re not a super palate, I don’t expect you to get it”

  1. Vincenzo says:

    Great post.

    I remember when I was just a casual consumer of the occasional glass of Yellow Tail Shiraz. I felt like a Napa insider. What really held me back from exploring new wines in the beginning was the super palate snobbery.

    I went into a wine and cheese shop where the clerk was only slightly better than the clerk in Pretty Woman.

    “Unless you have a super palate, I doubt you’ll be able to tell the difference.”

    I guess that sort of attitude must sell to some people (since the shop is still open and the clerk still employed there).

    And oh, it was absolutely white zin that opened my eyes and made me want to sample the world of wine.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Vincenzo… Here’s the best laugh of all. If people think that a super palate is a blessing, as this lady is welding it, they’re dead wrong. Having a super palate is a bit of a curse. It takes so much longer to get flavors, because something is always dominating… the nuances DON’T. I have to sip over and over again to get each flavor.

    It’s just the reverse of her attitude. You’ve got the last laugh!

  3. Vincenzo says:

    It’s a bit like having ANY sort of hyper sensitivity, I would imagine. I would go crazy if I could hear things the average ear couldn’t perceive. I can only imagine how dreadful it would be to be able to taste every.single.flaw in all of my food and wine.

    So, yes, I agree that a super palate is more of a curse. Though, I suspect many of those “afflicted” are more likely suffering from a psychosomatic effect of their own elitism.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    You had me right up to the end, and then I burst into laughter. As a wine blogger, I came right out with “Get over yourself” in the very beginning of wine blogging. Everyone else was talking about “flavors,” laying down their “all that” stories, and I just flat-out wrote: “Everyone has a Palate,” on Feb. 11, 2006. The rest is history, with just about everyone creating his/her own version of that.

    I could see that least one Napa wine critic was going to take umbrage with me, but I still decided to go for it. At one point, this person did says to me, “You’re blogging.” I said, “Yes, I am.” We not spoken sense.

  5. Eric Hwang says:

    Wonderful story…reminds me of my own palate journey similar to yours. As a child, I didn’t get much in the way of sugary sodas. Milk and juice were the norm in our family. High school introduced me to beer, ale and the ever-popular, Boone’s Farm. To call this wine would be an insult to the word, but it was sweet and more importantly, it got you drunk.

    I credit my roommate with introducing me to “real” wine. He lived in Germany for many years, so many of my first wines were Rieslings and German white wines. I too went through a White Zin phase, but it was short lived when I discovered Kendall Jackson Chardonnay. In the day, that was a real butter bomb and, living in Ohio, one of few available that I could find and afford.

    My wine “aha moment” came during a trip to Napa in 1984 when I visited a lot of the more well-known wineries, including Mondavi, Sutter Home and Beringer. But it was in Beaulieu’s Library room that I tasted a 1958 Georges de Latour and my mind was blown. I never knew red wines didn’t have to make you pucker from the tannins and that other aromas and flavors could dominate your senses.

    From Cab Sauv, I expanded my horizons and now, some of my favorite varietals are Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir and Grenache. I also love the sweetness of Sauternes, Ports, Auslese, and Muscat, but only occasionally.

    I’m not sure I’m a super-taster, but I do know that I’m very sensitive to bitter and sour flavors. So much so, that I don’t care for arugula and similar green vegetables. I also seem to be the “go-to” guy when someone suspects a wine is corked. I’m usually the first to notice it.

    I can’t say I agree with the statement that super-tasters gravitate to sweeter wines. And you’re right, everyone’s palate is different and their wine journey is different, and our paths may intersect from time to time.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Well said, Eric. Thanks for sharing.

    I think that you might be a super taster, too, because TCA is so evident to us… As are any vegetables that have a bitter component to them. I prefer my veggies to be raw. It’s the cooking process that really makes vegetables overly bitter.

    Any flaws, including brettanomyces or a wine that’s balance is way off with acidity, we know it well, ASAP. And, yes, take away the fresh, new tannins (which will dominate a wine for – most-especially – a super taster), and we DON’T have to dig deeply for the others softer, kinder flavors… They become very evident, But, it’s about the journey, right. It’s not about the destination…

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