My Palate vs. an “Expert” Palate

It’s curious how wines can taste different when drinking inside vs. outside, hot weather vs. cold weather, high-altitude vs. low, seasonally, from one day to the next and certainly as time passes and wines age. Most importantly, however, is that wines can taste very different from one palate to another.

Last week we sampled some single-vineyard 2009 Pinot Noirs from the Willamette Valley from the same producer, including one that I tried (same vintage) a few years ago- lets call it wine #1- and another that I’d never tried before- wine #2. Of course wine #1 had aged a bit (and my palate has too) but my notes were fairly consistent, especially considering the passage of time. Wine #2, the new wine, was in my opinion a better (more complex/ balanced/ integrated) offering; so when I looked up their ratings I was quite surprised by what I discovered.

Here’s my previous tasting note for wine #1, written about two years ago: “Tart nose/briary, brambly fruit. Pine/cedar, spice. Very perfumed as it opens up. Good acid/complexity. Lean palate. Burgundian. Savory finish.”

Here’s my note from last week: “Beautiful color/Burgundy- deep rose petal. Very savory nose- sawdust, floral, forest floor, scorched earth with candied spice, deep fruits and herbs. Lean and gentle palate. Softer acid. Dark fruit qualities.”

Here’s the “expert’s” review, with an “outstanding” score of 91 points (published Oct. 2011): “Ruby red in color, the bouquet exhibits notes of dried herbs and spices, floral aromas cherry, and raspberry. This sets the stage for a velvety-textured, succulent, concentrated, nicely proportioned wine that has enough structure to evolve for 1-2 years.”

Wine #2, the new wine, I liked significantly more than the previous one. So much (we agreed) that we purchased some for the store. Here’s my note for the better wine: “Very light, rusty/brick red in color. Incredible complexity on the nose- wood/forest, garrigue [meaning: bushy, fragrant plants], pine cone, burnt wood, spice/cinnamon undertones. Silky/complex/integrated, long. Ageworthy. Food-friendly acidity. Most complex wine of the line-up.”

And here’s the expert’s review with a mediocre rating (especially considering the price) of 85 points (Oct. 2011): “The… displays overt herbaceousness and a woody character that others may like more than I did. On the palate it exhibits pleasant flavors and a smooth texture but the fruit lacks depth and concentration. Drink it over the next 4-5 years.”

Regardless, we purchased wine #2 prior to checking out what the expert had to say. Ultimately I’m quite glad that I made this discovery and only feel more confident in my palate. I would even venture to say that a single-vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir (from the Yamill-Carlton AVA) should taste “herbaceous” and “woody” and shouldn’t offer “depth” of fruit or “concentration.” What I’m really thinking is: Does this expert really have much experience tasting such wines? Does “he” even know how they should taste?

Let’s give the expert the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he tried the wine when it was “shut down” or experiencing “bottle shock;” perhaps he was in a high-altitude city when he tasted it; by chance the barometric pressure¬†may have been high that day causing the wine to taste flat and uninteresting; most likely, however, his palate is quite different from mine and I prefer wine #2 while he prefers #1. Overall, it’s great to reference an “expert’s” opinion, but it is simply that! (Trust your palate!)


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