The last time I tried to explain how wine appreciation is a function of both the wine and the palate of the taster. Now I will try to explain how anyone can refine his or her palate with some simple changes of habits. I’ll start with two non-wine examples. One of my bad habits has been an over use of salt. So I have often made the effort to cut back on it. It doesn’t take long for me to then start picking up more flavors in my food and realizing a little salt can go a long way. Conversely, increased use of salt seems to require more and more salt for the same taste experience. When the music is soft, the taste buds learn to “listen” harder. As the volume goes up, the taste buds start covering their ears.
A few years ago my wife and I started cutting down on butterfat in our milk. I now use 0% fat milk, and she uses 1% or 2%. Recently I ran out of my milk, and when I tried her 2% it tasted like half-and-half used to taste to me. I had recalibrated my palate to be much more sensitive to butterfat. By the way, butterfat in milk is often used as a comparable experience to extraction and richness in wine.
So what is my point in relation to wine appreciation? One of the great divisions in the wine industry is New World wines (U.S., Australia, Latin America) versus Old World wines (France and Italy). With my Cincinnati clientele the general preference has always leaned towards New World wines. This is fine, as there are many great wines in this group. But I feel my customers are depriving themselves of some of the world’s greatest wine treasures from Europe. Therefore, as their merchant I feel it is my duty to try to expand their horizons.
The major differences between these two groups of wines revolve around a few attributes: fruit forwardness; extraction/richness; alcohol; tannins; and acidity. New World wines tend to be higher in the first three qualities and lower in the last two; Old World wines are just the opposite. I often use musical analogies in highlighting these differences. This is a gross generalization, but for me American wines can be thought of as louder rock music, while French wines are like softer classical music. And the reactions of the fans of the first group to the second group are remarkably similar: Bordeaux wines all taste alike; all chamber music sounds the same. No they don’t! It is just that their palates have not been trained to appreciate the nuance of Bordeaux wines. And I, of course, feel it is well worth the energy and effort to pursue this training. Stick with me and we will start cutting down on salt and butterfat!
The next time we will examine more closely the different attributes of New and Old World wines. There is one main reason why they manifest such differences and it is cultural – and intentional.