Work on my up-coming book on wine is coming to a close. What this has perhaps made me realise is that how crucial the wine maker is to the finished wine. A great vineyard in ambivalant ownership offers disappointment for the consumer and yet a passionate and focued wine maker can frequently make better wine than might be expected or considered possible from a location that seems simply run of the mill.
I have tried to provide an window onto the world of commercial wine tasting and buying which is as free as possible from all the pomp and mystery that seems to often to cloak the subject. At the end of the day; wine is for our enjoyment.
A brief excerpt…
Just now as I write this I have a glass of wine to hand. It is a pale pink, so pale it is very nearly white. It smells of strawberries. It tastes fruity and yet dry at same time. It makes my mouth water pleasantly. It is made from black grapes, pinot noir, the grape of Burgundy and yet it is a rosé. It’s a Richmond Plains Blanc de Noir 2010 from Nelson, New Zealand and cost me £13.30. It is certified organic and bio-dynamic and the back label describes it as “a delicious blend of stone-fruit and pear flavour with a concentrated, softly textured palate.” Well, I don’t get any smell of stone fruit or pears I just get strawberries. Is the flavour concentrated? Well, honestly how can you say? Is an Alfa Romeo fast? Sure it is faster than a Ford perhaps but slower than a Maserati. I’ve tasted more concentrated wines and less concentrated wines. I like the wine, it is absolutely delicious and it is also what I may describe as elegant but if I describe it is elegant I am describing it for myself. (Okay I know you are reading this but you know what I mean?) That is the problem with such tasting notes: it can just turn into waffle. “Softly textured palate”. You see what I mean? But never mind, my early tasting notes were full of that sort of purple prose and I suppose it serves a purpose. What is interesting is that in the 1980’s I don’t suppose there were any pinot noir grapes being grown in New Zealand and as for organic or bio-dynamic; these were terms that were right off the radar. Don’t get me wrong; wine tasting notes can be enhanced by a liberal use of adjectives but palates are subjective. There are no stone fruit, no blackcurrants and no mown hay put into wines: it is simply our brains saying to us “Hey; you know what? This taste reminds me of such and such.” I tasted a red Crozes Hermitage ages ago with some friends. One of them said it smelt of tar and another said it smelt of kippers and a third said it smelt of truffles. The one who said it smelt of tar happened to be a civil engineer, the one who said it smelt of kippers happened to like a kipper for breakfast at the weekend and the one who said it smelt of truffles was a chap who loved to eat out in fancy French restaurants. You get my point?
The other interesting point to keep in mind about tasting wine is that your palate is sharper earlier in the day but can be messed up by things like toothpaste and aftershave or perfume to name but a few. I have been in a professional wine tasting and have seen a well known lady wine writer promptly escorted from the room because she had come in reeking of perfume that was so strong it was going to affect everyone’s nose in the room. I’ve been at another tasting of 1978 Grand Cru Bordeaux where because the room had been allowed to flood with sunlight and warmth during the morning all the wines were too warm and tasted pretty disappointing. Temperature is crucial. Red wines don’t taste too good if they are too warm; there is a technical explanation for this which I have never bothered to learn as having tasted it first hand I know it is fact and that is that. Likewise white wines are frequently served too cold and it does them no good whatsoever. However, if you like your red wines very warm or your white wines chilled then that is how you should drink them but please one day just try your reds a little cooler and your whites a little less chilled and think about the resultant change in taste.