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Let Your Palate Lead The Way

October 19, 2020 1 comment

Wine can be intimidating.

Scrap that.

Wine is intimidating.

I’m always the first to disagree with the exact words I just wrote, but go watch the movie Somm, and tell me if you agree. Don’t have time to watch the movie? Go read about the German wine quality system, and then try to explain it to someone. Yes, wine is intimidating.

And no, it is really not.

If you are on a quest for the world’s most coveted wine expert title, such as the Master Sommelier – thinking of wine will keep you up at night. But if you want to casually enjoy a glass of wine, there is nothing intimidating about it.

Wine is simple. Wine is binary. You either like it or not. There is nothing else to it.

All you need to learn about the wine is to … trust your palate. Let your palate lead the way. It can be unnecessarily difficult, as humans generally are easily intimidated and influenced – “everyone likes it!”, “I paid $100 for this bottle”, “the experts said it was the vintage of the century”, “there were only 500 bottles produced”, yada, yada, yada. And nevertheless, the wine is personable, the wine is individual, it is only you who can tell if you like the wine or not – no matter what anyone else thinks or says. If you will learn to trust your palate, the intimidation will be gone out of wine at that very moment.

The best (and possibly the only) way to deal with this intimidation is through the blind tasting. When you are presented with a random glass of wine, you have no options but just to form your own opinion – swirl, sniff, sip, spit, repeat – say whatever you want, but all the external influences are out. It will be your own palate which will tell you “yeah, can I have more, please”, or “never again”. The value of the blind tasting goes even further than just conquering the wine intimidation – it also helps to deal with preconceived notions. Do you have a friend who keeps saying at every occasion “boy, I hate Chardonnay, how much I hate it”? Now imagine that person praising the delicious wine in their glass, only to find out that that was that exact Chardonnay they thought is the worst wine ever? In the wine world, blind tasting is the ultimate judge and jury, and your palate is all you got to rely on – and thus you have to simply trust it, as you are you.

Learning with and about your palate is not necessarily simple. Yes, you can go to the store, get a bunch of wine and create your own blind tasting – but it might be difficult not to cheat, right? How about leaving that arrangement to the professionals? Cue in the Palate Club.

Palate Club offers an opportunity to learn about your palate through the blind tasting – and then use that knowledge to find the wines which might better match your preferences. The way it works is this. You start by ordering a tasting kit. You can start with the red or white wines, and the cost of the kit at the moment of this writing is $49. The kit arrives neatly packed in the box, with 4 half-size bottles (375 ml) wrapped and numbered.

The next thing to do is to download the Palate Club app on your phone, install it, and create your profile. Once you have done that, you are ready to discover your palate’s wine preference. After you taste the bottle, you need to rate it using the app. The process is very simple as you have to rate the wine between the 1 and 5 stars. Once you rate the wine, you get a page with all the information about that particular wine. Once you will rate all four wines in your set, you will get your initial wine palate profile.

In your palate profile, you will find characteristics such as oak, fruitiness, acidity, and other – along with explanations for the numbers in your palate profile. Every time you will rate another bottle, the values in your profile will change accordingly – what you see below in the picture, are the new values after I rated the wine number 5. Right on your profile page, you will also receive recommendations for the wines to try. As palate Club is a wine club, you can also sign up for the regular wine deliveries which will be based on your preferences.

Blind tastings are always fun – and I never do too well in them. For what it worth, below are my notes and the names of actual wines – you can see that I got ways to go to work on my blind tasting skill:

#1: California Pinot? Plums, smoke, medium to light body. Touch of an alcohol burn (wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Carneros)

#2: Not sure. syrah? Clean acidity, nice round fruit, Rutherford dust, good power. California Cab? (wine: 2015 Côtes du Rhône Réserve)

#3: Chianti? Nice cherries, needs a bit more body. I would rate it 3.5… why is that never a thing? (wine: 2014 Chianti Classico)

#4: California Cab or Cab blend? Dark fruit, baking spices, good acidity, round tannins. A touch of the alcohol burn, similar to the first wine (wine: 2015 Mendocino Zinfandel)

Now, let’s go back to the major point of this post – trusting your own palate to avoid intimidation by the bottle of wine. Would the Palate Club help you reach this goal? In my honest opinion – yes. Of course, the profile which you create has limited value outside of the Palate Club, as outside of the Palate Club nobody rates fruitiness and tannins of the wine on the 100 points scale. However, the fact that you can get your friends together and play with your wines and learn your wine liking and not liking is really something to appreciate and enjoy. Blind tasting holds the ultimate wine truth, and with the palate Club’s help, you can uncover it – and learn a thing or two about your own palate. I think this is a win-win. What do you think?

Of Cabs and Tomatoes, or Having Fun with a Blind Tasting

November 29, 2016 7 comments

“By the way”, my friend texted me, “your text says “tomato wine” – was that an autocorrect”? My response was “Nope. You’ll see”.

Drinking wine is fun (if you disagree, you shouldn’t read this blog). There are many things which we, oenophiles, self-proclaimed wine aficionados, can do to maximize that fun. We age wines, we decant wines, we use fancy openers and pourers, we play with temperature and glasses of different forms and sizes.

One of ultimate fun exercises oenophiles can engage in is a blind tasting. Blind tasting is a “truth serum” for the wine lovers, it levels the playing field for all. Blind tasting eliminates all “external” factors – price (ha, I paid $300 for this bottle, beat that), prestige, winemaker’s pedigree, weight of the terroir (ahh, Bordeaux, it must be amazing), cute and elaborate labels, critics and friends opinion – and leaves your palate one on one with the content of the glass. Don’t say “I hate Chardonnay and I never drink it”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Don’t say “I don’t like Australian wines”, as you don’t know what is in your glass. Anyone who ever played the game of the blind tasting can surely attest to what I’m saying here. If you never experienced fun and joy of the blind tasting, you are missing and you are missing a lot – but it is easy to fix.

Our tradition of wine dinners goes back more than 5 years, and most of the wine dinners include blind tasting part (here are the posts for some of the past events – Pinot Noir, Champagne, Chardonnay). A few weeks ago, we managed to align everyone’s schedule for a wine dinner and a blind tasting with a simple and non-pretentious subject – Cabernet Sauvignon :).

wine tasting readyRemember the dialog at the beginning of this post? I have friends who know my obsession with the wine, and always try to surprise me with various oddities. One of such oddities was a bottle of tomato wine which they brought from Canada. I didn’t want to drink that wine by myself, so the wine dinner was an excellent opportunity to share it with friends. As guests were arriving, I decided to play a role of the mean host (okay, not too mean). Outside of the friend who knew about the tomato wine, the rest were presented with the pour of the white wine and the request to guess what grape that might be. Literally nobody wanted to believe that this was a tomato wine – I had to show the bottle as a proof.

Have I tasted this wine blind, I’m sure I would be in the same boat as all of  my friends – this 2013 Domaine de la Vallée du Bras OMERTO Vin Apéritif de Tomate Moelleux Québec (16% ABV) was fresh, with good acidity, touch of raisins on the nose, medium to full body and notes of the white stone fruit on the palate – for me, Vouvray (Chenin Blanc from Loire) is the one which comes to mind to give you the best analogy. This wine is produced from the locally grown heirloom tomatoes – and it is also a vintage – I’m seriously impressed (find it and taste it).

And to the blind tasting off we went. 10 wines were wrapped in the paper bags, opened and randomly numbered (my daughter usually does the honors), then poured into the glasses. The only thing we knew that all the wines will be predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon – no price or region limits.

Below are my notes, in our tasting order, both with my initial impressions and some updates over the next few days as I tasted leftover wines. And by the way, don’t think of this tasting of some stuck-up, snotty process – we openly exchange our thoughts, but each person’s individual palate is an ultimate purveyor of truth here:

#1:
C: almost black
N: restrained
P: bright fruit, pronounced tannins, delicious.
P: 2nd day – outstanding, firm structure, eucalyptus, dusty profile, tannins are still fresh.
V: 2013/2014, new world , considerably improved by the end of the tasting!

#2:
N: blueberry pie notes
P: beautiful, bright, cassis, blueberry pie with tobacco undertones on the second day, excellent
V: Lange

#3:
N: savory,
P: crispy, fresh, great fruit
P: 2nd day – firm structure, perfect balance, dark cocoa, cassis. Truly an enjoyable wine
V: nice finish,

#4
N: strange, rotten cabbage, musty cellar
N: 2nd day: an improvement, tobacco with touch of barnyard on top of cassis
P: nice, bright,
P: 2nd day: great improvement, very enjoyable, shouting a bit of mature fruit with bright acidity and touch of fresh plums.
V: India?

#5:
N: coffee, mocca, dust, excellent
N: 2nd day: coffee and roasted meat
P: nice fruit, bright, spicy
P: 2nd day: palate shifted towards savory too much meat. Probably perfect with the steak, but craving more balance on its own.
V: nice, young

#6:
N: blueberry pie, nice
N: 2nd day: pure candy on the nose, more of a lollipop quality, or may be stewed strawberries.
P: sour cherry, wow
P: sour cherries continuing, albeit more muted than yesterday
V: nothing from Cab, but nice. An okay wine.

#7:
N: nice balance, good fruit
P: great, dusty palate, firm structure, excellent, precision
V: outstanding

#8:
N: nice dusty nose,
P: crispy, tart, limited fruit
V: not bad, but not great.
V: day 2 – past prime 😦

#9:
N: nice, classic
N: 2nd day: added perfume and explicit anise notes
P: beautiful, excellent, mint, classic
P: 2nd day: dark, powerful, compressed, espresso, a lot more dense than the day before.
V: excellent
V: 2nd day: less enjoyable than the day before, closed up, lost the finesse.

#10:
N: young berries, same on the day 2 but a bit more composed.
P: young crushed berries
P: 2nd day: a bit more restrained. Young berry notes without supporting structure. Not my wine, but might have its audience.
P: 5th day: the sweetness is gone, and the classic Cab showed up, touch of cassis and mint, excellent
V: 1st day – it’s ok, 5th day – very impressive

During the tasting, we decide on two of our favorite wines. After tasting is done, we take a vote, with each person allowed to vote for two of their favorite wines. These are just two favorites, without prioritizing between the two. Below are the results of the vote for our group of 11 people:

#1 – 1
#2 – 1
#3 – 7
#4 – 1
#5 – 0
#6 – 2
#7 – 4
#8 – 1
#9 – 4
#10 – 1

As you can tell, the most favorite wine was wine #3 (7 votes out of 11), and the second favorite was a tie between wines #7 and #9, each of them getting 4 votes out of 11. Now, drumroll please – and the most favorite wine of the blind Cabernet Sauvignon tasting was … 2006 Staglin family Cabernet Sauvignon! Staglin Family Cab is definitely not a slouch in the world of cult California wines, and the group clearly fell for it. Here is the full lineup, in the order of tasting:

cabernet wines from the blind tastingHere are the details for all the wines:

#1: 2012 KRSMA Estates Cabernet Sauvignon Hampi Hills Vineyard, India (13.5% ABV)
#2: 2013 LangeTwins Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Lodi, California (14.4% ABV)
#3: 2006 Staglin Family Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, Napa Valley (14.9% ABV)
#4: 2002 d’Arenberg The Coppermine Road Cabernet Sauvignon McLaren Vale, Australia (14.5% ABV)
#5: 2014 Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon WO Robertson, South Africa (14% ABV)
#6: 2015 Vinca Minor Cabernet Sauvignon Redwood Valley California (12% ABV, 1 barrel produced)
#7: 1995 Château Clerc Milon Grand Cru Classé Pauillac AOC (12.5% ABV)
#8: 2000 Château Lanessan Delbos-Bouteiller Haut-Médoc AOC (13% ABV)
#9: 2009 Tasca D’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali Cabernet Sauvignon Sicilia IGT (14.5% ABV)
#10: 2014 Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon California (13.5% ABV)

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10 wines, 6 countries, 10 different regions, $7.95 – $150 price range, 1995 – 2015 vintage range – I think we did pretty well in terms of diversity. Staglin Family being the favorite wine is not that surprising (but still interesting, considering that it is the most expensive wine in the lineup at $149). My biggest surprises, though, were super-solid KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon from India (India? really?), an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon from Sicily (who would’ve thought!), and the cheapest wine in the group, Crosby Cabernet Sauvignon ($7.95), which opened up magnificently 5 days after the bottle was opened – of course, nobody has a desire to wait that long for the wine, but forgetting a few bottles in the cellar might be a right move.

The dinner quickly followed the tasting (after 110 glasses were safely removed from the table). I don’t have much in terms of pictures, but we had Russian Meat Soup (recipe here) and beef roast as the main dish. The deserts were pretty spectacular and paired very well with Cabernet wines:

And that concludes my report about our great fun with Cabernet Sauvignon wines and the blind tasting. Now is your time to share your blind tasting and odd wines stories – and if you had any of the wines I mentioned here, I want to know your opinion about them.

Lastly, if you never experienced the pleasures of the blind tasting, you must fix it as soon as possible. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, Blind Tasting Escapades, Wine Books Review and more

September 6, 2012 4 comments

Yes, it is still Wednesday somewhere! I’m actually on the west coast, so I have an excuse (okay, lame) for this post not coming out Wednesday morning, as usual. But let’s get to it.

First, the answer for the Wine Quiz #27 – This Whiskey Can’t Age Any Longer. Looks like this was an easy quiz, as most of you got it right – it is a high altitude and climate which don’t let whiskeys such as Stranahan’s to age for the long time. As Stranahan’s distillery located high in the mountains, if the cask will be left to age for 8 years, there will be nothing left in that cask (ohh, those angels…). Stranahan’s distillery is not the only one with such problem – Amrut, a very good quality whiskey from India, can’t age for longer than 3 years due to the same issue of altitude and climate. Located at 3000 ft in Himalayan Mountains in the tropical climate, Amrut whiskey rapidly disappears from the cask if kept for longer than 3 years. As a side note, even with [only] 3 years of age, it is a whiskey you don’t want to miss – if you are into the whiskey, of course.

Going into the interesting wine happenings section, W. Blake Gray had done it again – stirred the debate, I meant. Here is the post and here is  related poll (poll is closed, but you can see the results), all about blind tasting by the wine publications, or may be not so blind? Read and decide for yourself – and be sure not to miss the comment section, as it has a lot of emotions brewing.

Joe Roberts of the 1WineDude fame reviewed some of the wine books which I think worth your attention – you can read his reviews here.

It is the harvest time in the Northern hemisphere, so of course there are lots of harvest news from all over. Decanter magazine gives you a good harvest run down for Europe and US (they expect the prices of California wine to go up – this is great, I think I missed the memo about economy being in the excellent state), and here is a take on California harvest from W. Blake Gray.

Last, but [may be] not least – did you have Pizza today? You should’ve, as September 5th was a National Cheese Pizza Day. Well, yes, I missed it too.

The glass is empty – Meritage is all gone for today, however full shipment is expected to arrive in a week. Until then – cheers!

 

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