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Your Questions

Q

At what age is a person with a well-trained palate likely to peak? And, heaven forbid, but is there a point where our tastebuds begin to decline?

Celia Kent, Melbourne, Vic

People are born with about 10,000 taste buds, and these usually function best between the ages of 30 and 60 –though it’s worth keeping in mind that respected wine critics such as James Halliday and Hugh Johnson are now in their 80s.

There is some evidence women are more sensitive tasters than men, although this is still being investigated. Unfortunately our senses decline with age, which affects both taste and –maybe more importantly for enjoying wine – the sense of smell. But there are other factors that come into play as we age, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, declining dental health or taking medication for heart disease that can also affect how we taste and smell. 

Q

I recently came across mention of a sauvignon gris. Could you please explain the origins of this wine, and is it made in Australia or New Zealand?

Don Ives, Townsville, Qld

A colour mutation of sauvignon blanc (ie, the grape skins are more deeply pigmented giving an almost pinky grey appearance), sauvignon gris is most often used as a blending component, rather than as a single varietal wine, to give palate texture and weight. It enjoys greater popularity in France’s Loire Valley where it is known as Fié and while not officially allowed in Sancerre, there are high-profile producers, such as Henri Bourgeois, who have planted it for inclusion in some of their best cuvées. 

Despite being championed by winemakers such as Larry Cherubino, who grows it in his Channybearup Vineyard (Pemberton), and Phil Brodie at Te Mata (Hawke’s Bay), sauvignon gris remains a very minor player in both Australia and NZ vineyards. 


Q

 Are today’s minimal intervention wines – for example, those produced in amphora – exactly what our ancestors would have drunk, often instead of water? Or would wines in ancient time have been far less potent?

Simon Hall, Devonport, Tasmania

Despite appearances, I’m not 5,000 years old so I solicited the advice of Lisa Granik MW, author of Wines of Georgia for her opinion. She writes: “Yes, the notion is that many of those who make wine in qvevri are following old folk wisdom. Many wines back then would have had slightly lower alcohol levels and perhaps some residual sugar because the fermentation might have been arrested (primarily if it got cold at night and the natural yeasts died of temperature shock).

“Making wine in qvevri is labour-intensive and physically demanding. Perhaps more importantly, hygiene is a serious challenge, and a significant percentage of the so-called natural wines have all sorts of flaws – from unhealthy grapes, bacteria in the qvevri, mousiness, etc. The odds are high that this was just as it was 8,000 years ago.”

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