November 20, 2008

Palate Training #3: Memory Games

Regular readers of our Lab Reports know that one of our favorite guinea pigs of late has been the 2006 Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya. It's a Spanish Red made from ungrafted Mourvedre vines in the Jumilla.

During a recent job interview, a candidate for a spot in the Lab's chemistry department noticed the spare bottle of this wine that I was using as a paperweight. He asked me what it tasted like. I figured I'd let the wine answer the question and promptly pulled the cork. But then I had a different thought...

We've had a lot of experience with this wine recently. We used it to test overnight storage methods. We used it to test the effects of refrigeration. I should know what it tastes like. I should have a "palate memory baseline" for this wine.

I decided to turn the young chemist's question into a training exercise. Without checking my old notes, I tried to recall a sensory memory of the wines aromas and taste.

I remembered rich smells of dusty fruit. And flavors of plum confiture and ripe fig, and sharp tannins that smoothed out quickly with air and a lingering, nervy mineral element. With some concentration, I felt I could actually conjure the sensation of the wine on my palate.

When I tasted it, it was close to my sensory reconstruction. The job applicant was impressed at my demonstration of memory. But this wasn't about winning a parlor game. Conjuring the wine before tasting it deepens your appreciation of it, allows you to note changes over time, across vintages. Palate memory is an important tool. It's something to actively develop.

If a cookie can inspire two volumes of lost memories, just think of the potential for a quality Pinot Noir...

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