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.

~ by Cory Cartwright on May 20, 2010.

12 Responses to “A Good Palate”

  1. Sounds like a good palate is someone who consistently likes the same wines you do (or you would).

  2. Oh and the Monkey doesn’t have a blog either (least not an active one).

  3. Tom,
    Not necessarily. I think people have a good palate when they are consistent in their taste, and not anyone elses, if that makes any sense (or if the whole post makes any sense).

    – Cory

    (Also this is on the level of one to one. Judgments about this sort of thing are necessarily specific to one person.)

  4. It strikes me that you are relating “a good palate” to “constructing a narrative of wine from that person’s perspective” perhaps? So that you can come to understand wine through that person’s POV – whether you agree with that POV or not? I love a good narrative.

  5. Cory, your palate sucks. (choose an emoticon of your liking)

    From a retail stand point, a good palate is someone who understands what I’m looking for in a wine. Even better is when they know my palate so that when I walk into a store where the sales folks know me, I can grab a couple of bottles, ask about them, and get an answer based on my preferences. A long-time friend (30+ years) who totally knows my palate is going to start his new gig at Premier Cru (retail store manager and other duties) on July 1. The bad news is my wallet may take a beating.

    A good palate isn’t necessarily confined to someone who knows a lot about wine. My sister doesn’t know diddly about wine and takes sips only on occasion. However, she can tell me why she does or doesn’t like a wine, and her points are pretty much on track.

  6. Colleen, I think that is what i’m trying to get at.

    Larry, you’re right in that knowing anything about wine doesn’t make your aesthetic judgments more or less right, but it often makes it more interesting.

  7. Somewhat related to Colleen’s point, to me (right now at least), someone has a ‘good palate’ if they provide me with a fresh perspective on wine – something I can use to calibrate my own thoughts and palate.

  8. It’s kind of like someones taste in music. There are many artists/songs that i like and i’m sure my good friends hate and vice versa. I connect sometimes with someone who has the same love of a song as i do but also find it most interesting to listen to stuff that i may not like but they do. A “good palate” may be similar.

  9. Interesting post. Shouldn’t we separate aesthetic judgments from judgments of taste, though? And, I would say Kant is precisely not advocating an objective analysis of either per se. Judgments of taste are merely about whether something is ‘good’ to the subject, which we might further define as instituting some form of pleasure.

    An aesthetic judgment is different. It demands that a subject reflect from the object rather than from itself and then find that something is objectively beautiful insofar as its beauty is a universal demand on subjectivity. Of course, that doesn’t mean another subject will agree with the judgment. But that’s not the point. The point is that when the initial subject judges aesthetically they are judging with an eye to the universal, originating with a sensuous experience of the particular (as opposed to the other way around, which we might call something like moral judgment).

    Anyhow, that all seems nonsensical but it at least highlights an important distinction. A ‘good palate’ could be understood purely as it related to its ability to maximally detect pleasure for the widest array of palates possible and be able to articulate those observations. A ‘good palate’ could also be understood as one that is aesthetically consistent within itself, making judgments not based on taste, but on a level where the particular rises, within the subject, to the universal (though not a judgment that will actual result in universal acceptance). Those two types of palate judgment, if I can call it that, are ultimately at odds – though I think they could both subsist within a single individual.

    Interesting question.

  10. I’d also recommend a good essay in the book “The Philosophy of Wine” on the relationship between knowledge and sense in wine appreciation.

  11. […] for you: the owner of that table likes Champagne (and he’s got one of the palates, to borrow Cory’s phrase, I admire most in this here […]

  12. The idea of POV is right on. Someone with a good palate also has the ability to put wines in context–to understand what makes that particular bottle distinctive.
    Really nice post. In the end, it’s as tricky to define as “good taste” or style. Having style has little to do with how much your clothes cost (just has having a good palate has little to do with finding all 116 fruit flavors in a crappy SB). But you know it when you see it.
    Really looking forward to an upcoming post from you on NZ Poulsards.

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