I think the first time I read about cellar palate was on the website of Jim Law’s Linden Vineyards here in Virginia. He emphasizes that he and his staff taste wine from around the world on a regular basis to keep their palate honed and to ward off the evil cellar palate.A recent article by Jancis Robinson on SFGate.com brought the issue to my attention again. She reminds us that cellar palate is not just a problem for winemakers, but for consumers as well. Personally, I am not sure that I would define cellar palate as a problem for ALL consumers. If you always drink one particular wine or wine region, and that is all you drink and will most likely not drink anything else, then it doesn’t matter if the consumer adapts to the fact that the wine they continually drink is flabby or overly herbaceous and so on and so forth. In fact, in that case cellar palate may be beneficial, as consumers are able to gradually overlook deficits in their favorite wines. However, becoming accustomed to the poorer aspects of the wine would probably be accompanied by becoming “numb” to the best parts of the wine as well (the strawberry notes may taste less luscious over time).
On the other hand…
If you are a consumer like me who likes to drink many different wines, it may be a different story. For example, if you get on a pinot noir (soft, fruity, earthy) kick for a couple weeks, then go out and have a Syrah from the Rhone region, it may taste closer to an Aussie Shiraz. This is similar to a story that Jancis recounts in the first part of her article. Obviously, if you haven’t had this particular Syrah before (or ever had a Syrah), this first skewed experience could affect your opinions and purchase decisions for future Syrahs.
I think cellar palate further exemplifies the idea that every wine you drink is referenced against every other wine you have had before. As regular consumers, not trained expert wine panelists, we can have a hard time evaluating a wine on its own merits. Of course, most consumers won’t sit there and think “well this Cab. is similar to the one I had 2 years ago, but definitely better than the one I had at the tasting last week.” He/she evaluates against the whole collection of memories of Cab and in fact, not just Cab., but all wines they have had before.
So I believe to further your enjoyment of wine it is a good idea to take Jancis Robinson’s suggestion and drink globally. The more wine you can taste will serve 2 purposes. One, it will keep your palate fresh and keep you from falling susceptible to cellar palate. And two, it will really help you to learn what wines you really enjoy, AND THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART.
“Nobody tells you what you should put on your pizza, they shouldn’t tell you what to like about your wine.”- Gary Vaynerchuk