August 2, 2019

Where Can I Find a Cellar Palate?

Now there are some strange terms used in regard to wine, one of them is cellar palate and it’s got nothing to do with one of these being down in your basement!

Cellar palate is a condition that develops when you taste the wines from one area repeatedly. What this means is that you can “get used to” the very flavors that make a wine unique very quickly. Basically, you are so used to wines from a single area that you can become oblivious to their shortcomings or faults.  

Wait – wines have faults? Yes, they do – Sad but true.

The real conundrum lies in nature of that crazy French word Terroir. Wine takes on the ‘nature’ of the place it’s grown. A wine made from the same type of grape varietal but grown in different areas will taste different.

Terroir is typically used to describe how a regions environmental aspects like climate, soil, terrain, and traditions can affect how grapes grow or taste. Curious to learn about what makes Sunnyslope Wine unique? Read all about our terrior!

Why do we care? If we like a wine, we like it right?

True, but if you go someplace else and order the same Malbec that you love here in Idaho, you will be surprised at the different tastes! Here is an image of 4 very different Malbecs from around the world that I have borrowed from my friend Mike Veseth at the Wine Economist blog where you can read about his tasting notes as well. As a side note it was Mike that introduced me to a definition of Terroir from Benjamin Lewin MW (Master of Wine), “Terroir is a typically French concept that combines the mystical with the obvious”.

Keep in mind that how a wine is fermented, aged, filtered and bottled will also affect the taste.  One of the most amazing tasting experiences I have ever had occurred as a winemaker in Boise was showing us how different barrels can change the taste. He put the same wine from the same block, fermented with the same yeast in 3 different barrels and let me taste each of them after the same amount of time in those different barrels. It was astonishing to taste the differences between the three wine which all started out the same.  Thanks to Idaho Winemaker, Earl Sullivan, for the chance to “taste the barrels”.

As consumers, we need to be open to new levels of taste when it comes to the same varietals of wine.  A typical Chardonnay from Oregon will taste different from one made from Omaha. A Tempranillo from LaGuardia in Spain will be different than the one from the Snake River Valley American Viticultural Area AVA in Idaho. 

What can make us wine drinkers blind to certain flaws in a bottle of wine can also affect the folks that make the wine in one geographical too.  If you only taste the wine you make then your idea of “Normal and Good” are what you keep tasting. We hope that winemakers see the need to keep trying other wines from other regions as well as wines from other producers in their area. Maybe that kind of green pepper taste you just barely detect in your wine isn’t there in your neighbors? Is that good? Is it indicative of a problem in your vineyard? If you don’t try other wines, you won’t really be able to benchmark your own.

Remember this when you see your favorite winemaker drinking a Pinot from Oregon or a Cab Franc from Washington or a Cava from Spain. Same goes for your friend that loves French reds from Burgundy. Help them out by sharing a Fraser Vineyard Cabernet with them. We are all doing research and who are we to get in the way of science!

So why should we care about cellar palate at all? I think that in order to really expand your wine horizons we should all “Drink Globally”. You’ll keep your taste buds (palate) fresh and you will really learn what wines you enjoy the most. That is the whole point after all. We also don’t need to trust the experts when it comes to what YOU LIKE! You’ll know it when you taste it, but if you only taste 3 different wines all the time, you’ll never know what you are missing. Take a chance and explore the wine wall at your local wine retailer as well as at different wineries you visit.

Cheers and take your palate on an adventure!!

The Idaho Wine Ambassador

© 2019 Jim Thomssen

About Jim Thomssen, the Idaho Wine Ambassador:  Jim grew up in Minnesota but moved west to get away from the snow. He landed in Washington state with a degree in Economics.  He discovered the wines of Washington in the 1980s as the region emerged, and when his banking career brought him to the Treasure Valley in 1993 he saw the wine region in Idaho had the same potential.  Jim has worked with and volunteered for the Caldwell Economic Development, The Idaho Wine Commission, The University of Idaho, and the Sunnyslope Wine Trail over the last ten years to help develop the Idaho wine industry and promote Idaho wines.  Jim is an avid wine traveler and has visited Napa Valley, the Alsace, and Portugal.  He earned the title of Ambassador after arranging a trip to the Rioja in Spain with an Idaho Winemaker to explore the differences and similarities between the Snake River AVA and the Rioja Alta.

Sunnyslope Wine Trail


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