The American Palate

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I love reading about wine.  Recently, I have noticed a lot of references to the, “American Palate” in a number of wine reviews, and it doesn’t sound good.  This seems especially prevalent with European reviewers, who seem to hold this expression as a derogatory term, a way of putting a wine down.  “This wine was made for the American Palate, so I spit it into a bucket.”  I call on the Griffy on Wine readership to join me as we go search for the American Palate.
 
First some basics, the human sense of taste can only detect five distinct flavors: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and debatably, umami.  What’s umami you ask?  It’s a Japanese term, and it translates as “pleasant, savory taste.”  People taste umami via receptors for Glutamate, therefore scientists consider umami to be distinct from saltiness.  If you ask these same scientists what Umami taste like, they’ll say “salty,” so what the heck.
 
Given that taste is biological and not cultural, why in wine reviews do Americans get hammered for having an inferior palate?   When you consider that Americans are probably the most diverse set of people on Earth, having immigrated from all over the world from hundreds of cultures–many being European–you would think that maybe the American Palate would be seen as evolved in some way.  But the rest of the world doesn’t agree, and as Americans have yet to agree on a national sport, they haven’t really fought back.
 
Part of the problem is Americans seem to enjoy fruiter wines than people in other countries.  And of course we are primarily talking about the wines in Europe.  American wines by their nature are fruitier than European wines, and for a very good reason.  The climate in most American wine-growing regions is warmer than wine-growing areas in Europe.  That warmer climate yields a fruit that is bigger, sweeter, and more flavorful as a result. 
Now, if it’s true that American wine is fruitier and this has led to a preference for these style wines, then logic would suggest that sales of the less fruity, more tannic, and perhaps bitter wines of Europe would not sell well here in the States.  But that isn’t so.  Wines like Barolo, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and dry German Rieslings all sell extremely well in the U.S.  We are the main export market for all of these regions.  So this begs the question, what’s up with bashing of the American Palate?
 
The answer is Parkerization!  If one person could be blamed for the construct of the American Palate it would be Robert Parker.  Parker is the most influential wine critic in the world, and the Europeans hate him, especially the French.  They would sic dogs on him when he’s gone to tastings.  Some have also offered their wives and daughters to get a good review from him, and I don’t mean just for dinner.  Parker has championed the “fruit bomb” wine for most of his career.   If you want to see a great fight, forget WWE, lock Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson in a cage.
 
Could the American Palate be a result of a drink introduced in March 24, 1888?  Coca-Cola has corrupted the palates of generations of Americans and maybe a few of the rest of the world.  Do you know what the original name of Coca-Cola was?  Pemberton’s French Wine Coca!  It was inspired another French beverage, Vin Mariani, which was Bordeaux wine mixed with coca.  The ethanol in the wine acted as a solvent and extracted the cocaine from the coca leaves.  Both drinks were originally intended to be health tonics.  From this point of view, the whole world is being trained to enjoy only sweet and to avoid bitter.
 
Here’s my “Ah-Ha” moment, and I use this from my own experience.  The American Palate is nothing more than a beginner’s palate.  As I have grown and matured in my wine consumption my palate has learned to enjoy a broader range of flavors, allowing me to appreciate more classes of wines.  I know that my own journey has been hampered by listening to people who I thought knew more than I did about wine, but I learned to trust my own taste.  The truth is there are going to be people who only enjoy slightly sweeter wines, and there really should be no problem with that.  I myself love the big powerful fruit bombs; I like the dry Northern Italian wines, and have a growing appreciation for the softer French whites and roses.  Oh let’s face, it I’m a wino!
 
The American Palate is a broad range of palates of many amateur wine drinkers all striving to enjoy this magical beverage called wine.  We still have a lot to learn, but my American Palate indicates that we are well on our way.
 
By the way, the inspiration for this edition of Griffy on Wine came from a 2010 article in Snooth, a wine social media network, called “The American Palate,” written by Gregory Dal Piaz.  Gregory is the Editor in Chief at Snooth and formally worked at the New York City-based Astor Wines and Spirits.  You can enjoy more if Gregory’s wisdom, insights, and wine knowledge by going to http://www.snooth.com.
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