Wine Is a Moving Target
Posted: Dec 12, 2006 3:02pm ET
You taste a wine. You love it. You buy a few more bottles, pop one open a few weeks later, and ... where has the magic gone?
Or, conversely, you taste a wine. You're not impressed. A friend serves it a few weeks later, and ... wow! What happened last time?
Unlike most packaged products, wine doesn't stay the same in the bottle. And neither do we. That's part of the attraction, and the frustration, of wine. It's a moving target. Every time we taste it, we only get a snapshot, a moment in time. That's why we appreciate ageable wine, to enjoy the way it evolves over time.
It's also why I am relatively sanguine
about the recent kerfuffle
over whether wineries might be sending super samples
to reviewers and wine competitions.
I am more worried about mishandling, which can make a bottle from Joe's Liquors taste different from the one at Fred's Café, neither of which taste the same as the wine in the tasting room. It could have been shaken up just before they opened it for you. More insidiously, and dramatically, it could have been overheated or frozen en route. Joe may have displayed it in the window under direct light. Fred may have kept the bottle next to the kitchen stove.
Wine can get better, too. In the first months after bottling, chemical changes can soften harshness or bring out flavors that were submerged early on. In the long term, tannins soften, fruit fades, and (one hopes) additional character develops.
And then there is our old friend the cork, which ruins about 5 percent of all bottles and adversely affects as many others or more. I can't count the times I have tasted a wine that just seemed OK, not corky, asked for a second bottle and found it superb. Bottle variation exists.
Not to mention how we ourselves change. Wine often tastes better when we are happy, dining well with friends. Not so good if we're grumpy.
All of which is considerably more likely than special cuvees for reviewers to explain why a wine might taste different than expected.
I keep alert for it. I buy about two-thirds of my own wines from sources other than the winery itself. I have yet to experience one that seemed so different that the explanation had to be chicanery.
That's good news, in my book, and good reason to keep potential cheating in perspective.