Posted on | July 15, 2011 | Written by David Bertot | 1 Comment
It just may be that youth is lost on the young—at least when it comes to wine tasting. Unconvinced? Consider this: the human palate peaks at 11. Now ask yourself what you could taste then that you can’t taste now.
Andrew Jefford writes in the Decanter titled “Understanding Young Palates” that “Palate acuity peaks when we are eleven; after that, it is a long, slow slide downhill. Older wine-tasters don’t like to admit it, but their senses are never as acute as they were in younger years. Age’s trump card is experience and memory: you can fit things into a context younger tasters don’t have, and dredge the memory bank for sensorial similitudes.” However, while age is relative, and while there is a difference between actually young palates and figuratively young palates, there’s no question that all palates require a gentle education.
It’s a truism that Americans in general have very young palates, hence the oceans of cheap white and pink wines (notice I did not say Rosé) that unfortunately fill grocery stores nationwide. Case in point, Pinot Grigio is the number one Italian import into the United States. Can Pinot Grigio be delicious when produced by the right hands? Of course it can. Can it achieve greatness when designed to have residual sugar, low acid, and a $10 price tag for a beginner American palate? That, however, is unlikely (though we’ve got one). And thus the oceans of Pinot Grigio being drunk by Americans may not be very bad (it’s tough to find a really bad Pinot Grigio, as this article points out), but it’s not necessarily very good either.
I recognize there is a starting point for everyone. I know I didn’t start off with Giacomo Conterno Monfortino, or Grand Cru Burgundy, but after some education, experimentation, and fun, sometimes expensive, exploration, I now enjoy a rich, satisfying wine experience. I remember in the fall of 2001 when I was in engineering school I sneaked behind my advisor’s back to take Wine Technology. The class kicked off with Rieslings and finished with six week’s worth of French wines. My only wine experience had been at family parties. I had a very young, very sweet inclined palate. That class, ten years and a few thousand different tastes later, I now have not only a passion for wine, but a solid career in it.
Although now in my thirties, my palate acuity is past its peak, I must agree with Jefford that my experiences, findings, and explorations have solidified my “memory bank’s sensorial similitudes.” I have faith that we Americans in general, being the number one consumer of wine in the world by volume, will evolve within the next generation (or two) into a more polished, more discerning market overall. New Yorkers have an almost unfair advantage when it comes to wine access, as New York is a wonderful wine city. On any given day there is a wonderful wine tasting event (especially on Saturdays in our own Studio del Gusto). It is also home to some of the Western hemisphere’s most discerning and vast wine lists. Regardless of your age or wine level, I encourage all to constantly learn, explore and, most importantly, enjoy wine.