Tasting to the Limits

Oct 25, 2006

People often ask me if I ever get tired of tasting wine.

Yes, there are tough days, when the wines are uninspiring and tasting seems more like work than the fun it usually is. But with my beat, California, there are almost always exciting wines in the wings, in their brown paper bags, waiting to be tasted.

A more common concern is a combination of palate fatigue and tannin buildup. And at the Wine Experience, after a few days of rigorous tasting (and spitting), I finally reached my tannin limit.

I didn’t taste many wines at the Grand Tastings, preferring to visit with readers and winemakers and trying to save myself for Friday and two panel tastings.

Made it through Day 1—Burgundy and Pinot Noirs, Santa Cruz Mountains, the four chefs and my own Cabernet tasting. Didn’t taste much that night either at the walk-around tasting, and drank some wine with dinner at A16—a Stagecoach Black Bart Syrah 2002, which was terrific, and a new (for me) 2004 Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, called Black Kite, which was elegant and stylish.

Made it through the Top 10 tasting in pretty good shape. Aside from the Cabernets I’d reviewed that were poured in that flight, I thought the 2003 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Alban Reva Syrah Edna Valley 2003 provided a great contrast of Rhône grape interpretations (poured as they were side by side); both were stunning. Tasting Alban before the 2001 Château d’Yquem was about as different as night and day—the huge dark mass of Syrah and the golden brilliance of Sauternes.

I was still fine through Drouhin’s Burgundy tasting but finally hit the wall with the flight of Spanish wines. I thought they were excellent, but by then I knew the tannins and acidity and concentration of scores of wines had finally caught up with me. At times like this, I don’t worry much about ratings, and I know my palate and notes reflect a fatigued palate.

When I hear of people tasting all of the wines at the Grand Tasting (nearly 200) in three or four hours—or even over two nights—I just shake my head, wondering if they’re really appreciating the wines or whether it’s all just a blur.

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