January 3: My Italian Palate by Shaun Richardson



The first step in Italy was to to re-calibrate my mind and my palate. Italians rode bicycles, that was a surprise. But the change in wine style was a great contrast. In the U.S. we frequently taste wines without food, and are often treat them as cocktails, so they need to stand by themselves. Wines from Italy are traditionally made as a complement to food, and have a vibrancy and acidity that takes some getting used to. As an immigrant, I have always been fascinated at how sweet, fruity and rounded the wines from the U.S. are!
Our first wine of the trip was a completely unremarkable Vino di Tavola at the Borghese Palace for our welcome dinner. Unremarkable but for one thing; it complemented the food perfectly. We were under the impression that wine would not be included in the price of the first meal, but I suspect that this wine was seen as part of the meal, not something special. I love that about Italian wines, and as our trip moved on, my palate quickly began to find it’s European aspects.
I have worked with many foreign winemaking interns, who visit California for the harvest in October-November, including being one myself way back in 1997. It is always fascinating to watch each go through a very similar process. First they buy Levi’s and other assorted American cultural icons. Then they taste the wines and wonder what the heck they are all about: I often saw what could only be a sense of frustration with how different the U.S. wines are from their local wines. I always made a point to discuss how the U.S. wines worked in terms of palate profile, and how the U.S. wine culture and market work, as part of the internship experience. I would then talk to each intern at the end of the harvest, and invariably they had become quickly acclimatized to the local wines, and began to enjoy them immensely.
I found the same on this trip to Italy, within one day, my palate had abandoned California and I was more than happy tasting and enjoying the vibrant wines of Italy.


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