A Passionate Palate Memory For Wines

I hope that when I get older I don’t fall prey to Alzheimer’s. Like anyone else, I don’t want to lose my memory, especially my palate memory.

I am often asked how I can remember so many different wines. There is no secret to it. It is something that I’m passionate about. When you have passion for something or someone, you seek to know everything about them. You want to be involved with them, surrounded by them, immersed in them all the time.


Image 1 of 2

Classic Italian style. Photos from Roberto Viernes

I call it passion. Others may call it fanaticism, which, by the way, is the root word for “fan.” I’m sure we all have a sports fan in our lives whom at some time or another we look at and say, “wow, you’re crazy!” And sometimes, not in a good way, like, “what are you wearing?” I have a friend in the wine business who also happens to be a baseball fanatic. His favorite team is the New York Yankees, and he can name the starting team for every single World Series winning (and losing) from New York going back to 1961! I have a co-worker who loves the Dallas Cowboys. He knows the name of every starting player at every position. I believe remembering something is directly correlated to an extreme sensation, both negative and positive.

In my case, remembering wines is a very positive one. I should also admit that although I taste and drink somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 wines every year, I surely do not remember every single one. I will, however, remember the exceptional ones – the ones that I would love to own and drink myself as well as share with others are the ones that I recommend within these pages.

My memory banks can only hold so much information, so I typically jettison those mundane, spoiled, faulty and vapid wines altogether. There is no sense in keeping that as baggage.

But I am also blessed with a reasonably healthy palate memory as well, which allows me to remember the flavors, essences, structure and weight of a wine. And this comes again from years of honing the talent I have been given, like any other professional seeking to advance themselves in their field. Virtuoso musicians practice for years; the best athletes do the same. I have heard some experts speak of a muscle memory, where over time when the same motion or action is practiced ideally thousands of times, the body records the motion instinctively without a lot of exertion from the brain. You don’t even have to think about it. It is a simple action or reaction.

In my palate, I know the components to look for. The sequence of the way that I look, smell and taste is automatic, almost machine-like. Yet with all of this, the memories would be nothing if there was no emotion involved. It would be distilled to robotic motion or a simple set of chemical compounds and reactions. This is where, and perhaps even the why, passion gives life to memory. It gives flesh to all the bones, wind in the sails and music to sound. I pray I never lose my passion either.

Recommendations: 2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Chardonnay ($29) Silly loads of fruit in this wine and a healthy helping of vanilla custard as well. What makes it even more appealing is the balance. It is round but not obese, tremendously flavorful and inviting. 2006 La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Santa Pia” ($32) This has all the classical styling of a renaissance painting. It has loads of complex aromas and flavors but never loses its footing in the classic Italian style. It is comforting and delicious.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. Email rviernes@southernwine.com or follow him on Twitter @Pinotpusher.