The Evolution of Your Wine Palate (Funny, But True)
Regardless of how you found your way into wine, you’re here now! Thank goodness. Of course, wine drinking is very much a journey itself, and it’s quite likely that your wine palate will change over time.
You’ve probably already experienced a “taste revolution” once in your life. For example, remember how you once loved strawberry milk, but now prefer coffee?
After speaking with countless wine enthusiasts and sommeliers (…in a totally non-research-worthy way), here’s a pretty good estimation of how you wine palate changes over time:
The 7 Stages of Your Wine Palate
It’s time to pay a little homage to each step of our wine palate evolution, from beginner to enthusiast. Ironically, once you get to the end, you’ll find yourself back at the beginning.
Find out where your wine palate fits in the grand scheme of taste.
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Sweet Wine Phase
Wine is…whoa. Wine is for me!
If you’re coming to wine from the world of gin and vodka cocktails, chances are your wine palate will prefer sweet white and rosé wines. On the surface, these wines are straight-forward and easy to understand with big, obvious, fruity aromas, and sweet-tart flavors.
Oddly enough, sweet wines are not just for beginners. Almost every Master Sommelier and Master of Wine has, at some point, outwardly professed their love for sweet white wines, including German Riesling, Hungarian Tokaji, and even Vin Santo. So, don’t let wine snobs haze you.
If this is your style, here are a few articles that will round out your knowledge and provide you with new wines to explore that you’re likely to love:
Fruit-Forward Wine Era
First Love for Red Wine.
We are easily enticed into the world of red wine. Red wine is the most talked about, rated, and collected style of wine, and it’s also associated with several intriguing health benefits. But… how does one develop a palate for red wine?
This is the moment when fruit-forward red wines come into perfect focus. Fruity wines like Zinfandel, Garnacha, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Malbec, and Shiraz offer a welcoming bear hug to the wonderful world of red wine. Wines can be light, bold, soft, or spicy, but all have sweet fruit flavors as a dominant feature in the taste. To deliver this style, it’s not uncommon to see a small amount of residual sugar (usually 2–5 g/L RS from the grape’s natural sugars) left in the wine to further embellish the fruit-forward style.
If this is your wine palate, here is an article that will round out your knowledge and provide you with new wines to explore that you’re likely to love:
Bold Wine Epoch
After exploring fruit-forward wines, we amp things up. More fruit. More ripe. More bold. More lush. More everything. Bold red and white wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and oaked Chardonnay are like a meal in a glass. Your tasting skills improve as you identify distinct flavors in wine and associate them to wine making processes. For example, the taste of creamy chocolate or vanilla in a bold red wine is almost always derived from oak-aging. Talk about a massive confidence booster! Add to that layers upon layers of flavor and a long, mouth-coating finish, and it’s hard NOT to love these wines.
If you love this style of wine, you’re not alone. Many of the world’s top wine regions specialize in this style: (Napa Valley, Rioja, Bordeaux, Mendoza, Barossa Valley, Valpolicella, Montalcino, etc.) and it’s a style that pleases crowds of all kinds. In fact, some of you have decided that bold, lush wines are the ultimate for your wine palate and proudly stand behind your decision.
Elegant Wine Era (aka “Pinot Noir Stage”)
The Art of Subtlety.
For those who pass through the bold red wine stage and come out the other end, you are part of a much smaller core collection of wine ‘thusiasts. If your wine palate prefers elegance, chances are you have trained your tastebuds beyond the average taster. You have very little trouble finding delicate floral notes in wine, such as violet and hibiscus, and differentiating between flavors like fennel, anise, licorice, and tar. For these reasons you are often drawn to wines with distinct flavors, or what we like to call pointilized wines (think pointillism).
- Elegant red wines include Pinot Noir, Gamay, Nebbiolo, cool-climate Syrah, Carménère, and Sangiovese.
- Elegant white wines include Grüner Veltliner, Assyrtiko, Soave, Chablis, and Albariño.
Interestingly enough, we’re observing elegant wines rising to become the “new luxury” in wine. There are many possible reasons for this, but perhaps the most obvious reason, is that in order to appreciate these wines fully, you have to be able to comprehend them fully. And, because it takes a great deal of skill to decipher the subtle flavors in elegant wines, they tend to have a shroud of exclusivity wrapped around them.
This era is the most guilty of wine snobbery, but it can be managed with a healthy pour of bubbles…
Sparkling Wine Stage
We throw out all our preconceived notions of wine as we fall in love with sparkling wines. Sparkling wines have the reputation for being the life of the party, but with two fermentations and pressures up to seven atmospheres in a bottle, they are some of the most challenging wines to make on a technical level. If you love bubbly, you’ve come to appreciate the secondary aromas in wine that come from the fermentation, including all those bready, biscuity, yeasty, and even beer-like smells.
Natural and Other Wines Age
Anything But Normal.
Maybe you tried a “Pet Nat” (Methode Ancestrale) sparkling wine from the Loire. Or, a sommelier recommended a natural wine after learning you love sour beer. Regardless of how you got to this phase, you are now deep into the fascinating, undefinable world of natural wines and beyond! These wines include orange wines, dry Sherry, Madeira, un-sulfured natural wines, amphora-aged wines, biodynamic wines, and anything that doesn’t fit the traditional profile of “what is wine.”
Your friends won’t understand your obsession, but that’s never stopped you before.
“I Hate Wine” Period
A Love-Hate Thing.
We admit. Wine is an emotional experience. There will be a point in the journey where you won’t want another drop. You might enjoy cocktails and beer, but for some unexplainable reason, every wine you try bores you. When you get to this point, just roll with it. You’ve become overexposed (common for people working in the wine industry). Just take a deep breath, wine will be there when you’re ready for it.
In fact, this might be the perfect time to give a sweet Riesling a second chance…
Back to Sweet White Wines (Start Over)
Because wine is a flat circle.