It can happen to the best of us. That moment when we take the first sip of a new wine and find ourselves writing it off without a second thought or taste, pushing away the glass dismissively. For those who review wines for a living, we make a conscious effort not to do this. As recreational wine drinkers, it’s equally important to keep an open mind, as it can be too easy to pass on a wine outside of your comfort zone.
“Cellar palate” is a phrase used to describe a condition that can afflict winemakers when they become too accustomed to their own wines and the wines of their regions, rarely tasting bottlings from outside their orbits. The lack of broad tasting and expansive exposure to the greater wine world—the good, the bad and everything in between—can even limit their potential to produce the best wines possible.
But cellar palate doesn’t just plague winemakers. It can infect all of us, from those employed in the wine industry to those who simply enjoy the pleasures of the fermented grape. If we drink the same kinds of wines continuously, whether from one variety, region or winemaking style, aren’t we closing our minds and palates to the beautiful breadth and depth that the wine world has to offer?
“It’s important to keep an open mind, as it can be too easy to pass on a wine outside of your comfort zone.”
As someone who was, for many years, deeply entrenched in the natural wine world, where most of the wines I tasted were made with native yeast and virtually no oak, sulfur or other additions (not to mention, in some cases, a fair amount of “funk”), I unconsciously closed off my palate to the rest of the wine spectrum, becoming afflicted with a unique case of cellar palate.
In recent years, thanks both to my own personal growth and to my role as a wine reviewer, my palate has broadened. I continue to harbor a deep love and admiration for the most expertly made natural wines, but, by tasting outside my comfort zone, I have come to appreciate a much broader range of wine styles.
I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard someone say that they, “don’t like natural wine,” or “only drink Chardonnay,” or “exclusively drink reds.” The sheer vastness of the wine world can be intimidating, and the temptation to focus the lens more narrowly is understandable.
But to do so means missing out on one of wine’s most delicious attributes: near unending diversity. This New Year, resolve to drink more widely and more adventurously. And before you push the glass away, take a second sip.
Published: December 18, 2019