Palates under Pressure

Monday, 23 October, 2017
Hein on Wine, Hein Koegelenberg
The challenges and controversies of wine tasting have to do with wine’s intrinsic qualities and unique characteristics, varying tasting conditions, the element of the human taster as well as that emotional component – the much talked about experience. Keeping this in mind, are we expecting too much from those who taste professionally?

France's performance in the 2017 edition of the World Wine Tasting Championships has made headlines this week. Being beaten into 7th position by Sweden at number one and then also by arch rivals, England at number two is not something the world's most renowned wine country will be proud of. (Read more)

“Every French person thinks they are a connoisseur but we only know our own wines and not those from other countries. It’s the same with Italy and Spain and all wine producing nations. They only drink their own wines. Countries like Sweden and the UK are far more open", Philippe de Cantenac from LRVF told The Times.

Palates are often under scrutiny - when they themselves are judged as in this tasting championship, but even more so when it comes to the judging of wines in competitions or for ratings. How much of the outcome of a wine tasting is really about the expertise of the palate and how much about experience and exposure and perhaps even luck?

Palate Pilates

To qualify your opinion on wine, you need a trained palate. For the novice it is about identifying the primary tastes, tannin, acidity, sweetness and alcohol, deciding whether you enjoy the wine and to determine what you are willing to pay for it. (See palate training for beginners)

For the connoisseur it is also about being able to eliminate the presence of any faults in the wine and interpreting the primary tastes in order to come to a conclusion about the quality, the maturation potential and the pairing options.

A competitive environment requires more of the palate. When the wine is the one being judged, the palate is expected to be well-trained and experienced. When the palate itself is the one being judged, such as with the World Wine Tasting Championships, it gets more complicated and the palate, with the help of sight and smell, needs the ability to identify age, origin, terroir... This is no easy feet and it takes a lot of continuous focused practice to obtain and maintain a well-trained palate.

"The sensorial and organoleptic tasting of wines is a practice requiring lots of commitment, concentration and a continuous training, and just like in many other activities, the knowledge of theoretic notions represents a fundamental factor." (Read more:

To read more online, click here.

Thomas Davidson

Thomas joined in May 2019 after graduating from Stellenbosch University with a BA in History & Ancient Cultures and completing a certificate in Business Management and Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School in Stellenbosch. He moonlights as a radio presenter at MFM - and has an incredible passion for wine. 
We are delighted to have him on the team.