A Good Palate
So there i was last night at my favorite SF restaurant La Ciccia (which means “belly” as i learned from Lorella) with The Wine Digger, Spanish Importer Jose Pastor , The VLM, and some guy named Scott (who has no blog). We had tucked into some pretty serious bottles, a 2006 Dettori Bianco, a verdejo from a solera started in 1954, a 2001 Chevillon 1er Cru Nuits St. Georges “Les Bousselots” (seriously the last two 2001 Burgs i’ve had have murdered it) and a 1970 Faustino Gran Reserva (if you want your friends to mine their cellars for collectible bottles, badmouth collectible bottles nationally) and a few other bottles. After all this drink we stopped talking about wine and started having one of those bizarre meta-wine conversations that wine geeks have that make normal wine geek talk look, well, normal.
What do you mean when you say someone has a “good palate”?
This is a phrase i use all the time to describe people but i’d never really thought of all the implications of it (this is where you’re free to tune out scroll to the bottom and listen to some Ramon Montoya instead of suffering through this). Of course the obvious answer is that people with especially sensitive palates who pick all kinds of moon rock and extinct fruit aromas in their wine have “good palates”, but i’ve never really used it that way. It could also mean people with good palates can do parlor trick blind tastings but i’ve never used it that way either (although this is impressive in its own way). There are plenty of people who have ultra sensitive noses and can pick up VA at homeopathic levels or who have deep knowledge of back vintages of New Zealand poulsard whom i think i have, pardon, crap palates.
So what do i mean when i say someone has a “good palate”?
Of course this is perhaps sounding a little too philosophical at this point, but there is some definite real world implications to this idea. i think Jose Pastor has a good palate, and he has a whole business built around it with employees and producers who depend on his judgment. i think Terroir is the best wine bar in the country, and it was built around the palates of the three founders. Of course these are simply my judgments. There is no objective anything to go on here so leave your Kant out of it.
So i started thinking about folks who have palates i agree with, but that didn’t work. Some of the best, most interesting people like some wines that i don’t care for at all. So that was out the window. Then i started thinking of people whose palates i liked, but that was too vague. Why did i like them? So then i started to think about people’s palate’s i think are consistent (really boring) and i got an answer.
Now of the people’s palates i trust Neal Rosenthal is right up there at the top. i’ve never read a Rosenthal tasting note, nor do i know if he takes them, nor do i care if he does. The wines in his book are wines that speak for themselves in a way, but they also speak about who put the book together. Long time readers of this blog will notice that i have a thing for some of his wines. Collette Ferret, Paolo Bea, Luigi Ferrando, Fratelli Brovia, Jean Marie Fourrier, Jacques Puffeney and Montevertine are all pretty important wines to me and to the way i think about wine. There are a few things in his book i don’t like, however and yet i still think he has an extraordinary palate. (This is where i furiously try and make an “important” point out of this rambling). When i drink a Rosenthal imported wine i get the sense that this a wine that Rosenthal likes. That this is a wine he would have for dinner. There doesn’t seem to be any wines that are simply there to fill volumes or make money where others might be losers.
So at the end of the day when i say someone has a good palate i’m talking about consistency and conviction. That when they say they like something, they mean it. if i drink with someone with a good palate for long enough, or buy wine from them, or read their blog it generally comes through what they like, rather than what they think they like whether or not they pick up cork taint at microscopic levels or whether they can name all 116 fruits that make up the nose on an industrial sauvignon blanc.
(Now here is where i have a crisis about whether i have a good palate, but that is up to you, dear reader, to decide)
Note: As penance for appearing in The Times article, friends have promised to make drink all sorts of Bordeaux they like, and i will invariably be shown the error of my ways. This is how these things go.