Styles Change, And So Do I

Like anything else, styles in wine are constantly changing. But what does that mean for us tasters, and for our palates?

 

Last Tuesday this issue came up at a Binny’s wine meeting. We were tasting through some exciting new releases, including the 2006 Tanbark Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon by Philip Togni. It’s sort of a second label bottling, a more affordable cabernet from the famous winemaker.

 

  At first I didn’t think too much about it. My tasting notes go like this: A nose of green herb, very vegetal, like green pepper. Very herbal on the palate, with dry fruit, autumnal, hugely vegetal and tannic.

 

Like I said, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t dislike it; it is a good wine, but I hadn’t found it overwhelming. So I was a little surprised when a friend, whose palate I deeply respect and who has had decades of tasting experience, got excited about the Tanbark Hill.

But it’s so green, I said. It’s so vegetal, like green bell pepper. Then I got quiet, because sometimes it’s good to keep my fool mouth shut and try to pay attention so I might learn something.

 

She tasted it again, considered it, and then said, I see what you mean, but …. And then she listed the qualities of the wine that she found so exciting: it is big, dense, chewy, and tannic. Made for aging. She said that it is so much more elegant than the more recent and dominant style of cabernet from Napa, smelling like chocolate milk with coconut. She said that this used to be the style of cabernet from Napa, and that while everybody under 35 probably won’t get this wine, everybody over 35 is going to love it.

 

(Later, another guy there, who I assume must be under 35, said that he knew exactly what I was talking about, and that he thought the vegetal qualities I had mentioned were closer to pea pod than green bell pepper. So it’s not just me.)

 

I suspect that it’s more than just a matter of taste. After all, our palates form out of experience, not in a vacuum. As American wine styles (and international styles as well: see Spain, South America, parts of Italy, and so on) shift toward clean fruit and lots of confectionary oak influence, what will happen to our palates, to our expectations for wine? While I’ll always try to appreciate more elegant and powerful and monolithic wines, I am afraid that my palate is getting used to a different style.

 

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While mulling this over in my mind, I was talking to another friend at the Skokie store who had recently tried the Colonial Estate Exile, a super-sleek and modern Australian red. He had shared it with several friends, who all loved it. Even one guy who only invests in old-world stuff like Barolo and Bordeaux liked it so much that he wants to purchase a case to lay down in his cellar. So even though there will always be different tastes and shifting styles, surely great wine will always have the potential to transcend.

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