Palate drift is a fancy way of saying that some of the wines that you used to love are less enjoyable than they used to be. Maybe your first love was a fruity Zin, a buttery Chardonnay, or a jammy Shiraz, or even the big, brooding wines of Barolo - where your first love came from doesn't really matter, but at some point you decided to see the world and leave your high school sweetie behind.
You see, drinking wine is very different from tasting wine. When you drink you pour, you taste, you say "mmmm, I like", and then you move one. Tasters are different - sometimes you sniff a glass for a half an hour or more pondering it: What is that aroma? Where have I smelled that before? A hot or cold vintage? Judicious use of oak? Flowers, which ones? And then the tasting...swirling, analyzing, critiquing...tearing apart in your mind a liquid that is part art, part natural chemistry.
There is nothing wrong with 'drinking' wine, but once you move from drinking to tasting you have cut yourself from your moorings and set your palate adrift. The symptoms are noticeable - signing up for a mixed case from your wine club, forcing dinner guests to drink from two glasses to compare wines they've never heard of, or an attempt at the Wine Century Club - these and other wine 'deviances' are signs that you have found some new love interests in your freshman years of wine.
Adrift, the great fear for a wine aficionado is that your cellar could hold dozens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of bottles that are no longer 'your style'. Every time you reach into the cellar, you guiltily walk past 'that section' and say "maybe tomorrow", or even worse you say "I wonder how much I could get on auction for that". The relationship is not only over in your mind, you need to formalize the breakup.
So is Joe's style drifting? Absolutely, but it may not be instantly obvious if you look at my scores. I am clearly losing my taste for modern-styled fruity wines - not wholesale abandonment, but a definite reduction in both the frequency of purchase and the frequency of uncorking. In my scoring of wine I try to be style agnostic and focus on quality, i.e. is this a good representative of the style and region. So a fruity wine may be complex and balanced so I score it well, but only by reading my notes you realize that something is amiss. And this is not just happening here - nearly all of my wine friends and fellow bloggers have commented on wines they no longer drink.
In the end we me may drift back to where we began, taking the knowledge that we have gathered on our journey, tearing apart the wines we used to love and finding a new appreciation for them. But undoubtedly many of us will never return.
What prompted this reflective moment? Eminent blogger Barry picked up on my limited enthusiasm for last Friday's The Bull and the Bear - I am adrift, Barry, and enjoying the journey right now.