Expanding Your Palate

Opinion Wine Wine Science

I read an article by Bill Zacharkiw entitled: Searching for authenticity in wine? Most roads still lead to Europe. In the article Bill was explaining why he liked and recommended French wines most often. Bill stated, “…Part of it is definitely tied to the wine I was exposed to when I started drinking. It’s how my palate was formed, and I believe those early experiences went a long way to shaping my palate today…”

This is a profound statement for those of you who are new to wine and think your palate must be bad because you don’t like an expensive wine with a 95+ score. You like what you like. There is a reason Baskin Robbins has 51 flavors. Even if we only look at vanilla ice cream, there are several different flavors of vanilla. Classic Vanilla, French Vanilla, Vanilla Bean Vanilla, and the list goes on. Which one do you like? Most likely the one you grew up eating. The one you grew up with from that one specific ice cream maker in your town.

So don’t blame your palate if you don’t like the taste, understand your palate can be trained. Few of us loved the taste of coffee or beer when we had our first sips, but even those of us that now love the taste of coffee don’t love every type of coffee. I like brewed coffee, dark and black. No sweetener, no cream, just coffee. Oh, I also like cappuccinos. So while a cup of light sweet coffee makes me gag, a cappuccino tastes great… No understanding palates, even your own. We like what we like.

Reminds me of a quote from the movie Pretty Woman where Edward Lewis said, “People’s reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic; they either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul.”

I feel the same with many wines. I have tasted some great wines that just tasted horrible to me. I’m sure I could train my palate to appreciate then, but I will never love then. So should I try? Well, I think there are far too many wines to always drink the same wine all the time. However, there is also no need to choke down a wine you don’t like because you think you should like it.

I love red wines. Mostly New World, fruit forward wines that are not too acidic, not too tannic. That fits because as Bill went on to say, “…These wines fit the profile of North Americans’ penchant for sweeter foods and beverages, so it is understandable that when many try traditional Euro-styled wines, they find them overly acidic, thin and bitter…” I couldn’t agree more. So while I know what I like, and I could spend the rest of my life drinking only California style Cabernet Sauvignons from hundreds if not thousands of different wineries, but why? Why be boring?

I like to work the edges of my palate. By that I mean work from what I know I like and stretch a little. Take a Cabernet Sauvignon for example. Even done in the same style, there will be a lot of taste difference from AVA to AVA and winemaker to winemaker. Once I find what I like about that grape varietal, in that area, in that style, and by that winemaker, it opens up other options. Try another varietal from the same vineyard, it may have even been blended into the wine you just loved. Now you have found another varietal you like. You can push the edges again by trying that varietal at another vineyard. Do you like it here too? If so, you are on your way to liking that particular varietal. If not, you know there is something about the region or winery where you did like that wine that appeals to you. Now you can expand from there.

I don’t have to jump into drinking some wine I’ve never tried before, from a region I’ve never been before, to expand my palate. I don’t think you need to either.


Steve spends his days living in the software world of Silicon Valley, dreaming of a day when he can live as a wino hobo riding a wine train.