Here’s a thought: knowing the taste preferences of a wine critic or writer is essential to understanding their perspectives on scores and reviews. Can someone who hates Sauvignon Blanc (“Cat pee I say!”) fairly rate it? Or can someone who has antipathy for Napa Cabs (“Over-the-top fruit bomb I say!”) be trusted to provide balanced criticism?

The palate is the thing

There’s a lifetime of learning when it comes to wine.┬áThat’s the main reason I so enjoy delving into the topic — at times to the continual chagrin of those around me, “Lick this stone, and tell me if it tastes mineral-ly to you.”.

On this journey, I’m still an infant, an occasionally bombastic one at that, no doubt someday hoping to one day walk and dreaming of retiring in a small Chateau in the Italian countryside (but only if I can get streaming Argento). However, at least one thing seems certain, here and now: your palate knows best. When it comes to wine, you know what you like and what you don’t. Sure, it’s stating the obvious. And I’m not suggesting that just because you have “taste preference” means you’re a “wine critic” necessarily.

I thought I used to know my palate. Then, it changed; or evolved I’d like to think. In the early days of my transformation from a Molson dude to an Ehlers dandy, Napa Cab was my Stratocaster. Whites in my books didn’t make the cut. Steak had something to do with that I’m sure. Back then, a homebound bachelor night agenda was simply: Mondavi Cab, Rib Eye, Suspiria. If tallboys of Oranjeboom were involved, I might (might) be able to make it through NOES 1-5. But enough about me, already.

Don’t friend the score, friend the preference

Be wary of those who promise to be all things to all people. I’m skeptical when someone tells me they don’t like Zins (“Too hot I say!”) but they can still score them with precision because they know how to identify flaws. Maybe, but see that screwed-up Hardy Boy look on my face? That’s my BS detector working OT.

Fortunately with the Web and now the explosion of social media, we’re getting a most welcome influx of experts on all sorts of wine niches. They typically go deep on a region, a varietal or a style. Traditional wine media, of course, have primarily worked this way. Some of the blogs that have recently popped up on my radar as examples: Do Bianchi (Italy), Conscious Wine (Oregon, organic), Swirl, Sip, Snark (Virginia).

It’s like Elaine in that Seinfeld episode (“The Comeback”). Remember the one about the movie rental recommendations by Vincent? Elaine really dug his taste in film. So much so that she began to really feel at one with this guy. Unfortunately it turned out the guy was a boy living with his parents who didn’t appreciate her dropping by with liquor and cigarettes.

Then I discovered Chardonnay…

Used to hate it with a passion. It was the wine kept women drank with their walnut salad at lunch. All that changed when the un-oaked movement came about. I also realized over ten years of getting to know the grape that it can be complex, rich and satisfying. It became my go-to white. That it could be chilled didn’t hurt either on warm Northern California evenings.

Okay, maybe I’m a slow learner. Or is it palate evolution?

Either way, trust your palate.

Clinton Stark
Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear