Today’s letter is “P”, so we’ll talk about Palate and Press!
You know your taste in clothes, shoes, food and cars, but do you know your taste in wine? I didn’t used to – I really didn’t care much, I knew what types of wine I liked, but never delved into the ‘why’ part of it based on palate. That is, not until I started making my own wine, then I realized it was even more important.
Your palate is a complex combination of four senses: sight, smell, taste and feel. When you pick up a glass of wine, look at it and take a sip, your brain gets a tsunami of information. Stop and notice the specifics:
- Visual: Shade of Color, Intensity of Color, Still or Bubbly?
- Smell/Taste: Flavors through a combination of nasal and tongue sensors
- Taste: Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty (taste of Minerals-Minerality)
- Sensation: Cool/Warm, Heat (Alcohol), Astringency (Tannins), Fizz, Consistency
Over your lifetime, your palate has automatically (and mostly unconsciously) developed likes and dislikes. For example, If you grew up drinking milk, then, moved to Coca-Cola, and finally, cocktails, your palate is used to creamy consistency, sweetness, cold temperature, fizziness and heat (alcohol).
A good way to figure out how your own palate works, write down a list things you liked to eat/drink when you were a child, adolescent, and now, as an adult. Note their characteristics. What are your palate preferences?
In Italy, palates are different. This explains why Caramel, Cinnamon and Pumpkin Spice coffee flavors are popular at Starbucks in the U.S,. and why Americans tend to order cappuccino as an after dinner drink.
Italians, on the other hand, tend to drink cappuccino only as a breakfast drink and espresso straight up otherwise. Neither is right or wrong, better or worse, just different.
Your palate is a highly sensitive mechanism designed to detect both subtlety and intensity in different wine types. But once you expose it to intensity (big, heavy, red wine), you won’t taste subtlety (light white).
If you want your palate to work well, go in order from light white to heavier white, then, from light red to heavier red and then, to sweet or liquored wines.
Drinking alcohol before a meal (also known as ‘the cocktail culture’) influences American wine culture: better to find a wine that is easy drinking (harmonious without a lot of acidity or tannins) so it can stand on its own without food.
The Italian wine culture, however, does it right where wine is served in the context of food:
- a crisp white wine with lots of acidity or minerality to clear the richness of a risotto.
- a light red with some acidity to go with bread and cheese at lunch
- a structured red wine to counter the fattiness and weight of a big meat dish.
As you get to know your palate and begin experimenting with unfamiliar wines, your tastes will evolve. Remember, vino è piacere (Wine is pleasure.) Enjoy the pleasure of playing with your wine palate.
Next up, Press – not the paparazzi type, but an actual fruit press like this:
This is an invaluable tool for home winemaking – it makes extracting the juice from the fruit pulp after fermentation so much easier. What’s cool is you don’t have to use it just to make wine – you can make fresh apple cider, or any fresh juice you want! Of course a juicer would probably be more ‘modern’, but this puppy has been a fun tool to use in my winemaking adventure.
Winemaking is so much fun – at least for me – and am tickled every time I give the wine I make as gifts to friends and family who love drinking it as much as I love making it. While we go through this alphabetical series on winemaking, if you have any burning questions, be sure to ask them in the comments below, and I’ll reply there – and maybe even highlight your specific question(s) in a future post!
Thanks for joining me in this fun adventure!
Here are the links going backwards for your convenience, in case you missed any:
A for Aromas, Acidity and Appearance
B for Barrels, Bottles and Blackberry Wine
C for Color, Clarity, Carboys and Cherry Wine
D for Decanting and Decanters
E for Equipment
F for Fermentation
G for Glass and Grape
H for Harvest
I for Infusion
J for Jeroboam and Jug
K for Kabinett
L for Leaf, Label and Lees
M for Merlot, Muscat and Must
N – the Nose has it!
O for Oak and Oxidation