The art of wine tasting
|The bottom line is that there is no perfect way to assess a wine.|
When an artist has a show, comprising say 20 new paintings, drawings or sculptures, the collective effect can be mesmerizing. The individual works take on a greater gravitas when exhibited as a group than they might have singly. This is why, when a buyer selects a work at a new-work show or a retrospective exhibition, takes it home and hangs it on a wall, they may have a sense of disappointment. It needed the support of its siblings to transmit the power we felt when we viewed it in the gallery. I’m sure gallerists are aware of this kind of illusion.
Taste a single wine and you can learn a certain amount from it, but taste it alongside another wine and you will learn more about both of them.
There is a similar dynamic at work with vertical wine tastings, but it works in reverse.
Sit down and taste, say, a 20-year retrospective line-up of a certain wine from one winery—known in the lingo as a vertical tasting—and even if the collective effect is very positive, it is easy to be overly critical of individual vintages.
The tendency is to order the wines from most preferred to least, and not give enough of them high scores. I’ve caught myself doing this on occasion. The forehead-smacking moment is when you taste just one of those wines on a different, later occasion, and realize that you have been ungenerous at the prior encounter.
Another dynamic, which I feel is related, happens at large blind tastings, the kind of event that wine professionals tend to indulge in frequently, except they’re on a semi-serious basis. Semi-serious because they are a strange mixture of social occasion and professional tasting. A meal is often part of it, and the presence of food can also distort our impressions of the wines. Most wines taste subtly different when you’re eating.
The bottom line is that there is no perfect way to assess a wine. They all have their advantages and drawbacks: blind or non-blind, singly or in groups, judged alongside similar wines or contrasting wines, same grape variety or same region, etc, etc.
One thing is always true. Taste a single wine and you can learn a certain amount from it, but taste it alongside another wine and you will learn more about both of them. It’s useful to compare and contrast.
Next time you have guests to dinner, try serving two wines with each course and make them of the same grape but different regions or countries, or the same style but different grape and regional origins. Say, an Alsace or Mosel riesling alongside an Aussie. Or a white Burgundy beside an Aussie chardonnay. It doesn’t matter what the exercise is, just that there is some logic to it. It makes everyone think a bit more about what they’re drinking, and everyone will learn from it.