Anne here. Normally, we write as if Mike and I are both in on the composition of the piece, which is why it’s always we, then Mike or I in the third person. However, this was kind of a personal thing, and Mike will be commenting below in his own voice.
We were lucky enough to attend the Pasadena Pinot Fest earlier this year (sorry, but the day job got in the way of actually covering it here). Anyway, something happened to me that I found really, really interesting.
As some of you may already know, I have a funny kind of palate. Yes, I know a lot about wine. I know what I like and what I don’t like. But when I smell a glass of wine or taste it, what I smell and taste is pretty much wine. If I’m smelling, say, grapefruit in a glass of sauvignon blanc, it’s because the grapefruit is really, really strong.
I’m also very sensitive to sour (acid) and bitter flavors. Mike and I joke that I’m a good test strip for his homemade wines because I can smell and taste the flaws before anyone else can.
Which made the pinot tasting last spring interesting. For the first part of the tasting, all of the pinots had an almost nasty, bitter, tannic bite at the back of my palate. And I’m thinking what is this? Because these were some of the best pinot noirs on the planet and something just didn’t taste right.
But then I got some of the lovely cured meats they had for sampling and tasted one of the nastier wines with it. It was completely and utterly different. All that harsh nastiness completely smoothed out and the wine was all but transcendental.
Checking out a wine with some food isn’t going to help a bad wine, but sometimes you might not want to rush to judgement. That’s one of the reasons Mike and I used to bring Pepperidge Farms Goldfish crackers with us when we’d go up to the Santa Ynez Valley or Paso Robles and winery hop. So if something tastes good in one part of your mouth, then not so good in another (I know, not a lot of real estate to deal with, but it’s possible), try it with a bit of cheese or sausage. It might change things and then you know you’ll want to serve that bottle with some food. Or it might not.
Ditto to above.
Ok, maybe a bit more commentary is appropriate. As you taste more wines over time, your individual palate will develop into a good judge for a wine’s role in your life. But let’s clear about something. If a wine doesn’t smell right, it really won’t matter what it’s tasting like because you’re not going to put it in your mouth unless you’re one of those people who truly enjoy stinky cheese.
Wes Hagen of Clos Pepe in the Santa Rita Hills near Lompoc expressed it this way: If you like the smell, put in your mouth. If you like the taste, it’s okay to swallow it. Repeat.
I’m paraphrasing here but you get the idea. I’m not sure a food can cover up a bad smelling wine but sometimes some exposure to air will blow off whatever is causing the smell. Everyone’s palate is different and that’s a good thing. Some people might find the combination of chocolate and bacon to be weird. But I’ll take that over chocolate and asparagus. Some foods are not meant to be soulmates.