I think I’m having a mid-life palate crisis.
At my WSET3 class last week, we tasted a Condrieu from the Northern Rhône. Condrieu is widely considered to be the Holy Grail expression of Viognier. Condrieu is high-maintenance (the grapes are grown on steep terraces) and expensive. Having an opportunity to taste a Condrieu is a real treat. So we tasted. And all I could think was . . . meh. I really wanted to be blown away, but I was bored.
Who the hell is bored with Condrieu?
And that got me thinking about my relationship with Viognier. I can’t remember the last time I bought a bottle of Viognier. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I was even in the mood for Viognier. I get a couple bottles a year from Virginia wine clubs I belong to, but they sit in my wine fridge, unopened and neglected.
Back in 2011, the Virginia Wine Board designated Viognier as the signature grape of Virginia, and I was all in. I evangelized for Virginia Viognier; I was convinced we all needed Virginia is for Viognier t-shirts. But, over the last few years, we’ve grown apart. I just don’t enjoy Viognier as much as I used to. Too much of it is overblown — hot, heavy, and downright gooey. It’s boring. That’s not to say there aren’t fine examples of Viognier out there. But lately, that’s all they are to me. Fine.
Why is something I used to love now boring me? Am I having a mid-life palate crisis?
Our palates change and evolve over time. What I loved drinking in my 20s isn’t what I love drinking today. And thank Bacchus. Back in my college days (pre-cell phones, ahem), we made a drink we called Purplesaurus Rex (I can’t remember why, but I’m sure there was alcohol involved in the naming process). We were very proud of our recipe — it was peach schnapps mixed with grape Kool-aid. Horrifying, right? (Btw, I haven’t had peach schnapps since 1991.)
Enter wine. And Viognier.
Usually, when someone first starts drinking wine, their natural preference is for wines that are sweeter and fruitier. I was no exception. When I first started drinking wine, I was all about fruit and residual sugar — Riesling (the sweet kind), Moscato and Gewürztraminer were frequent guests at my table. And I wanted my reds big, fruity, and jammy.
Viognier was responsible for my very first “Wow! This is serious!” moment about Virginia wine. Back in the early 90s, Horton Vineyards made a Viognier under their Tower Series label that curled my toes. I can’t remember exactly what year it was (I was barely legal to drink in the early 90s, and years away from actually keeping track of what I drank), but I remember that Horton Viognier making me sit up and pay attention to Virginia wine.
But, over time, your palate develops and tunes to different tastes. Supposedly, you can retrain your taste buds to prefer certain tastes after just 5 to 10 exposures. I’m mostly on board with that (although, there is no amount of exposure that could retrain my palate to like cilantro). The more wines you try and taste, the the more you develop a taste for them. I no longer want sweet, fruity or jammy wines. Today, I want white wines that are lean, quiet, and loaded with minerals and acidity. I want reds that are restrained, elegant, nuanced, and cerebral. Also, a little funk never hurt anyone.
And while Viognier isn’t necessarily sweet, it is fruity. It’s naturally low in acidity, and tends toward higher alcohol. It’s rich, acutely floral and perfumey. And boring.
Viognier . . . I will never regret the time we had together, but it’s over.
It’s not you. It’s me.
P.S. I’m curious . . . is there a grape or wine style you once loved that just doesn’t do it for you anymore?