(First in a 3 part series)
I have often been asked how I have such an amazing palate and how I can find a customers perfect wine after asking just a few questions. I am completely self-taught and honestly I have no idea. I do know if was brought up trying every food at least once. “You never know until you try” was one of my moms’ favorite sayings around the dinner table. My parents at the time my parents were hippies living on a goat farm with a house garden to feed a family of seven. Well they had that and Costco. As I grew up giving everything a try became a point of pride. I would sample any dish or any food at least once. I would come across an “exotic” dish on a menu and already know what it was by reading my moms’ cookbooks or having her make it first. With a large family we didn’t eat out much, so when I watched my mom cook, I saw how she cooked. When it was too salty she did this, when a flavor was strong she used this herb or that herb and so on.
To me a lot of what wine tasting is having an idea about how something tastes and being able to say, “Hey X reminds me of Y” harking back to my palate memory. But it did take me a long time to get good at this. What I did to get here is that wherever I went I tried wine. I would talk to people about it. Ask them what they tasted or what they thought. Interestingly enough about the first year here at Locals was all an amazing amount of memorization about what went with what in said order. I never really felt confident with my own ideas until I came up with my three questions. It helped me figure out how to help people help themselves on how they taste wine. The questions came from my background in food flavors, cultural anthropology, and watching way too much food network.
Question 1: Where are you from?
Well right off the bat the three question idea is a fib. This question actually has three parts: Where were you born and raised? Do you like spicy foods? And do you have any dietary restrictions? People love to talk, and usually will give you a geographic history of their lives which is helpful. Also asking if they grew up in a rural or urban environment helps define what their might like palette some more. Urban palettes usually have a more culturally diverse palette because of the cosmopolitan food options available. Most people from large cities will have access to different food flavors and will be able to differentiate between more eclectic food flavors more easily. Think about trying to explain to a farmer how the flavors in a Thai peanut sauce work on their own as well as with the flavors of Thai Cuisine. This is not an easy task. Where people were born and how their parents fed them does affect what flavors they like and what they do not like.
Similarly, if you really like spicy food this effects what flavors are pleasing to the palate. To me there are two main types of heat. The type of heat that hits the back of your throat and goes up into your sinuses, clearing out any congestion one might have had; one that makes your eyes water. Typically this is a characteristic heat found in central and South American foods. If someone doesn’t like spicy foods they will be less likely to like wines with high tannins unless they sample the wine with meat to cut the feeling at the end. Smoother wines with a little acid seem to be preferable. Also people who don’t like spicy foods tend to go for the fruit forward wines, but that depends on their geographical location. If people like spicy foods I will recommend certain wines that have some good herbal spice flavors and wines that compliment spicy food like for example a blend like the Peterson Vignobles. Even though this is not a sweet wine, the combination is of some acid on the back of palate and the tannins strips your tongue of the spicy oils found in South East Asian cooking. But one word of caution….this wine does not work as well at getting the Jalapeno type of oil off of your palate however.
To be continued…..