“Trust Your Palate” is Bad Advice!

I can't hear youI feel a rant coming on.

Probably the most ubiquitous piece of advice offered by wine educators and wine writers to novice wine lovers is “always trust your palate”.

This is the worst piece of advice you could give anyone. Would you tell a med student or a freshman engineering student to always trust their instincts? Trusting instincts can be a good thing but only after the “instinct” has been honed to something worthy of trust.

Now granted mistakes in wine tasting don’t have the dire consequences that medical or engineering mistakes have. The worst that can happen if you’re a novice wine drinker trusting your palate is that you will learn nothing from more experienced wine drinkers. It’s your loss; no one else is put at risk. But it is a loss nevertheless.

“Always trust your palate” assumes your current preferences and abilities are fine as they are and need no improvement. It assumes there is nothing to be learned from anyone else, no wider perspective to be achieved, no patterns out there to be discovered. Whatever it is your feeble powers of discernment reveal they must be correct just because they’re yours. That’s not only dumb; it’s arrogant.

None of the people giving this advice really believe it; if they did they would never have acquired the wine expertise they are so diligently preventing others from acquiring.

When I began to be fascinated by wine, my consuming thought was that  others were getting so much more out of a wine than I. While others were reporting heady aromas and textures and fine distinctions between varietals,  I was tasting a generic grapey flavor with all wines tasting basically the same. Had I trusted my palate I would have been forced to conclude they were hallucinating.

So do not trust your palate. Instead, assume that people with expertise might actually have something to teach you.  Assume your abilities are too unformed to deserve your full trust. Recognize that the more perspectives you gain on something the better you will understand it. Trust the learning process, not your palate.

2 comments

  1. I’ve been meaning to say this for a while, so I’ll get it out of the way first. I very much appreciate your writing, both the wine reviews (my favourite on the web) as well as the socio-political commentary. As a wine novice, as well as someone acutely aware of his lack of knowledge in so many areas, I couldn’t agree more with your advice to, “trust the learning process, not your palate.” Sadly, it feels like we live in a time marked by extreme subjectivity married to anti-intelectualism. We don’t all have to be scientists and philosophers, but we should all be aware that there is always more to learn. Keep up the good work.

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