Jancis Robinson, in Gourmet Traveller Wine (Oct/Nov 2007, p.40-41), writes on the phenomenon of palate/taste adjusting to the sort of wine you drink regularly. It’s an interesting read.
Towards the end she mentions ‘cellar palate’ where winemakers largely only drink the wines they make themselves, or their neighbours/colleagues. Jancis levels this criticism at Californian winemakers, and to a lesser degree South African, but declares that “this is an accusation that could generally not be levelled at the Australian wine industry today”. I think she is being far far too kind to Australian winemakers. Perhaps catering a little too much to the sensitivities of readers of this Australian magazine.
Cellar palate is a real problem in Australia, it undermines the New World innovative nature of the industry. Actually I think our reputation for innovation is slightly over-stated. Yes, there has been lots of experimentation with grape varieties and regions, but in this matter one could argue that this is just natural catching up to the Old World who did this some centuries ago and have less need to undertake this experimentation today. Yes, there has been innovation in refrigeration, irrigation and in mass volume production. And there is fashion driven change (such as the current ridiculous alcohol levels of Australian reds). But there is an awful lot of production that goes by the same ‘textbook’.
The formal Roseworthy/Waite winemaking course, and the Australian show system which are two of the (not so secret) secrets of the success of the Australian wine industry, both encourage a cellar palate phenomenon. Too many wines are made to the same recipe (I use the term recipe in the broadest sense to describe grape growing, sourcing, blending and winemaking).
On a very positive note Steve Webber (of De Bortoli) has been awarded Australian winemaker of the year. This is a person who says he has been busy unlearning a lot of what he was taught at Roseworthy. He’s even against adding acid to wines (yay !)