Stacy Briscoe’s article in Wine Enthusiast provides an excellent overview of what we mean when we talk about a wine’s midpalate. In doing so she uncovers a dimension of wine too often overlooked—wines’ vitality.
“There are three main stages in [wine] tasting: the attack, or ‘approach,’ the midpalate and the finish,” says Janet Kampen, lead instructional designer at Napa Valley Wine Academy.
MW Mary Margaret McCamic weighs in with insight on how wines exhibit tension in the midpalate
“When a wine has presence in the center, supported to the sides by acid and a suggestion of…phenolic properties pulling towards the back, I am more aware of its role in the middle,” says McCamic. “It’s a very subtle push-and-pull that tells me more is going on in-between.”
Both these comments reflect a too-often ignored dimension of wine—how it evolves on the palate. To my mind this is far more important to wine quality than which particular aroma notes a wine exhibits.
But this emphasis on the changes a wine undergoes in the mouth is a relatively new focus and many wine educators still ignore it.
“To be honest, I rarely think of the term ‘midpalate,’ ” says Peter Marks, MW. “When I first taste a wine, my initial thoughts go to the wine’s structure—sweetness, acid, tannin, alcohol, etcetera. After spitting or swallowing, I pay attention to the persistence of the flavors on the palate, the finish. In between, I consider the wine’s body, depth, concentration and complexity of flavors.”
Marks considers all these components as part of the midpalate, but doesn’t typically use the word or teach it to his students. “If you’re describing the wine’s body, concentration and complexity, you’ve covered all you need to know about the midpalate,” he says. “Wine can be so confusing for students. Why make it worse by having them describe ‘midpalate’?”
Ah, no. You can describe a wine’s body, concentration, and complexity without capturing its movement. No quality wine has the same body or concentration throughout its evolution in the mouth. The body and concentration changes as it traverses the attack, midpalate, and finish. In fact it changes from the front of the midpalate to the back of the midpalate. This is where the action is. When wine’s have vitality it is because their midpalate is dynamic.
Dumbing down wine for students who find it “confusing” does an injustice to wine and the student.