I've heard it over and over again - "tasting wine out of barrel is not easy." I tasted about 100 wines out of barrels in three days and there was nothing whatsoever difficult about it - the 2007's are absolutely lovely, crystal clear and a pleasure to taste. When they say "barrel tasting isn't easy," I think they mean that it's difficult to predict the future of a wine merely by tasting it in barrel.
Why would it be difficult? I'm no wine scientist, but here's my rudimentary understanding: for one, sulfur is usually added to wine when it's bottled. This stabilizes the wine, an important thing during long bumpy travels by truck and by boat. But it also tends to mute the aromas and flavors of the wine to a varying degree. Another thing - before bottling, wines in barrel must be racked off their lees, the mixture of dead yeast cells and grape matter that settles at the bottom. The term bottle shock refers to the way some wines can retreat into a shell after racking and bottling, in some cases for quite a long time.
Think about it for a moment - the wine has been in barrels large enough to hold about 300 bottles worth, resting in a cold humid cellar for a year. For wine, this is infancy (the womb is the grape?), and in this state it might be at its most perfect. Tasting wine in this state might be akin to looking at a nine year old child and imagining what he or she will be like at age 21. There are definite clues, but it's tough to be exact.
I gained a whole new load of respect for the experience and wisdom of people who can taste from barrel and understand what they're tasting, place it in the context of years past. People who know about the evolution of wine from barrel to bottle to cellar through the years. People who say things like "Wow, that was the best young Mazi-Chambertin from Rousseau that I've ever tasted," and who are not making idle boasts.
How many years of barrel tasting are necessary in order to understand that state of wine? How bout you - any tips on barrel tasting?