Everyone who drinks wine has a palate. Because, simply, all that means is that you can decipher what the wine tasted like and decide whether you enjoyed it.
Easy enough, eh? The catch – and this is where the wine snobs like to get involved – is that everyone’s palate is different. Some people like tannic wines. Some people like sweet wines. Some people like citrusy wines. Some people have been drinking wine for years. Some people have just started drinking wine. All of this plays into your palate.
And you know what? It’s OK that everyone’s palate is different.
One of the best definitions of palate is “part ability and part experience.” In other words, it’s like being a baseball fan. When you’re a child and you first see a game, you’re not sure of much else than the final score and that you had a good time. But over the years, as you watch more games, you learn more about the sport’s intricacies. By the time you’re an adult, you can criticize the manager for not pulling a double switch or leaving a pitcher in too long.
It’s the same thing with wine. When you start drinking, your palate is inexperienced. You’ll probably notice little more than the tannins (or lack of same), how sweet the wine is, and some basic fruit flavors. After 30 years of wine drinking, though, you can spout descriptors like Robert Parker, puzzle over a flawed mid-palate, and parse food and wine pairings like a Roman rhetorician.
Palate also depends on genetics – your ability to taste. One of the world’s leading taste researchers divides the world into three groups: Super tasters, about 25 percent of the population; tasters, about 50 percent; and non-tasters, about 25 percent. The first group is above average, the second is average, and the third is below average. Which means that palate, for three-quarters of the world, depends on experience.
This is not what the wine snobs want you to believe. For them, palate is akin to being able to hit a curve ball. Only a very few can do it, and they deserve all the accolades and all the cash. That’s why you hear so much about people who have good palates and bad palates.
Don’t believe them. When I started doing this 25 years ago, I couldn’t tell the difference between a tannin and a tea cup, and it worked out just fine. The difference is experience, and most of us can have a “good” palate if we drink enough wine and pay attention while we’re doing it.