Thursday, January 07, 2010

Don't Completely Trust Yourself at Tastings

Further proof, if any was needed, that it is futile to try to really understand wine at a large industry tasting:

Almost two years ago, I think it was, I tasted this wine alongside the 1990 vintage at one of Dressner's tastings. I remember being interested in both wines, not loving either of them, and finding the '90 to be more inviting. So I bought a bottle of the 1990 and we greatly enjoyed it. In the comments on that post, some people suggested that the '89 was an even better wine. I meant to try it, but I never got around to it. In fact, I drank the '90 again at a restaurant, where it did not show well - never really opened up, stayed kind of shrill and screechy the whole night. And this was after me promising my father in-law that it would be amazing.

Yesterday my pal Peter came over for dinner and he had a bottle of the '89 in tow - 1989 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses, Louis/Dressner Selections, about $65. Can I tell you that this wine was absolutely magnificent? And first let me tell you that at the Dressner tasting this wine came off as a bretty mess. The Dressner team is unsurpassed, in my opinion, at putting on excellent industry tastings - well organized, plenty of room to taste and think no matter how crowded they are. So it wasn't about the conditions at the tasting. Bottle variation? Could be, but I doubt it. Peter said that as he paid for the wine, David Lillie told him that "when this wine shows well, it's great. But not every bottle is great." But I don't think the Dressner team would have showed a lesser bottle at their tasting. Who ever opened it would have noticed and opened another bottle.

I think it's just not realistic to think that a wine like this can be understood over a few minutes in a crowded room with the traces of 25 other wines on the tongue. This is not a new idea, I know, but it was very real for me last night as we drank this wine. We opened it right as Peter arrived, and it had nice exotic spices on the nose and also a big breath of barnyard. We left it alone for the next hour while we drank the fantastic remnants of the previous evening's Lustau Almacenista Gonzales Obregon Fino del Puerto Sherry, selected by Christopher Cannan, Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, and cooked and ate my rather lame attempt at kinpira burdock root.

When we came back to it, the Chinon was just magnificent. The nose was complex with spices and stewed fruit, and had the great depth and dimension that mature good wine has. And the palate was fully resolved and showed amazing breadth and detail of flavor. It really spread out in the mouth and the fragrance lingered long after swallowing. This is what I hope my 2002 Raffault Chinons will turn into. This is what I hope all of my Chinons turn into. This was just beautiful and completely satisfying wine.

And to think - I had all but rejected this wine based on a few minutes at a tasting. Let this serve as a reminder to me and to anyone else who cares: never never never do that. Tastings are great but they cannot offer the whole truth, especially regarding mature wines. They offer a cross section of the wine, but a wine like this changes every 15 minutes. At a tasting, you have no idea which 15 minutes you're in. There's no way to really understand until you drink the wine over the course of an evening.

So...what if a mature wine by a solid producer is not so impressive at a tasting. Should I assume that it might be great and buy it anyway? That doesn't make sense. So why even taste the 1989 at a tasting? Perhaps it can do more harm than good, a la my Raffault 1989 experience. But I will never not taste a wine like that if I see it at a tasting. So how do you take your understanding of the cross section of wine you're tasting, and generalize from it in a meaningful way? I do not know the answer to these questions, I'm sorry to tell you. Please feel free to share any insights.

17 comments:

Vinogirl said...

Interesting comments on industry tasting's.
Love Cab franc, such an under-rated varietal.

Do Bianchi said...

such a good point: tastings generally work against our palates and force us to experience wine in the entirely wrong context and environment...

and wow, that wine... I've only ever tasted back to the 95 and 90...

great post...

CabFrancoPhile said...

I wonder about both bottle and human elements. Brett is known to cause bottle variation. And small differences in corks will also lead to big differences over long time periods.

Do wines change as much as humans change during tasting? I specifically wonder about Brett funk since one's nose may well compensate for the aroma. The same might be said for acid where the mouth buffers against it. Or with tannin where it accumulates.

I guess I reach the same conclusion: take it one bottle at a time, slowly and patiently.

Michael Amendola said...

Great post. Big industry tastings have their place but it's really unfair to the wines and the tasters too. Wine is a funny and magical thing.

Peter said...

This is available at Chambers St. right now for anybody interested. I saw it there last week, thought about buying it, and past on it.....Can always go back.

The Wine Mule said...

As well all know, there are no great vintages, only great bottles. At the same time, I have to say that any Chinon or Bourgeuil that calls attention to itself is something of a failure. These are (in my old fogey opinion) supposed to be wines that accompany food. For example: As much as I admire the intensity and focus of Marc Plouzeau's 2005 Bonneliere Chinon, I greatly prefer the James Petit Cuvèe des Gallucher "Tradition" 2007, for its modesty. I know celebrating a wine for its modesty is seriously anachronistic, and I'm kinda embarrassed to admit it, but what can you do.

TWG said...

Now just '89 but '02 and '05 are available

King Krak, Who Drinks The Wine said...

"when this wine shows well, it's great. But not every bottle is great."

Is this not the most frustrating thing about wine?!

- Says he has 6 bottles of the 1989

Florida Jim said...

I agree that tastings are a difficult venue - after all, how many times in your daily life do you drink wine with wine? I virtually always drink it with food and that is usually over the course of an hour or more.
Industry tastings are skewed for me; the wines that stand out are those that were made to stand out. Subtle doesn't sell in such a setting.
And the 'no great wines only great bottles' idea is also something I agree with. Especially among producers who are not trying for MacDonalds-like uniformity.
Best, Jim

Palate Press said...

Neil, can you drop me an email? dhonig AT palatepress DOT com

I couldn't find contact info.

Thanks.

David Honig

The Bloggers @ 67 Wine said...

Neil and the crew,
Tasted this at the same dressner event- and not surprisingly found it less then amazing; but have tasted bottles of the 90 several times since and enjoyed them over a period of time . . . with a meal; and good company. Wine is always much better that way.

I think that you have to try them, even if its not a perfect showing (imagine tasting gravner at those same tastings . . . can you get into it there??). But drinking them in a real situation in better. I think it's hard to know, and sometimes you have to guess. sometimes the bottles really show up- though for me that mostly happens with younger wines (I did love the Minervois d'opuia barons 89 that we tasted last year; among others at that tasting).
Cheers,
BEn

Brooklynguy said...

thanks all for the comments.

@ the Wine Mule - I'm not sure I understand your comment exactly. You say: "...any Chinon or Bourgeuil that calls attention to itself is something of a failure. These are (in my old fogey opinion) supposed to be wines that accompany food."

Why are these things mutually exclusive? Can't a Chinon be a great wine and also go with food? Although I might have preferred duck or something like that, we had this bottle with tofu and winter radishes, and fried rice, and it was awesome.

Suzy said...

My insight to share is, don't generalize! Approach every wine with an OPEN MIND whether it's old or new world, oaked or unoaked, from Chambers St. or the grocery store. Even if you've tasted it before and thought it was crap, taste it again! Way too many preconceptions and prejudices in this world of wine that we live in...

Beau said...

I think maybe we're forgetting the main purpose of an industry or portfolio tasting: quickly evaluate many wines in order to determine what to provide for your customers. Retail buyers for selective and not tiny shops don't have the time to take every bottle home and drink it with dinner before it goes on the shelf. So a big part of the job is being able to make judgments based on a taste or two, it's not easy and even the best make mistakes. An industry tasting is work, or should be, and is more difficult when you have to elbow through people who come for cocktail hour(no one on this blog I'm sure). They're also helpful to let me know what not to spend money on. But I would never say I've "had" a wine simply since I tasted it at a tasting.

I've tasted '06 Rousseau Clos St. Jacques several times, I've never had it.

Brooklynguy said...

That's an interesting point Beau. If i ran a retail shoppe or wine bar I would have to approach these tastings differently. here's what i hope I would be doing: I would already know the wines, so in tasting new vintages I would be trying to understand the characteristics of the wine in the new vintage. when tasting a wine that's new to me i would be trying to learn as much about that wine as possible during the tasting, which i very difficult. i might be on target in my assessment, i might not. which makes it risky to buy cases for the store or bar. it would be better to drink a bottle at home first. so maybe the approach isn't that different in the end.

Tista said...

We are often too quick to judge a wine on first taste, even when we spend time on it.

Whether the origin of standard deviation we observe be human, environmental, technological, lunar or astral (my favorite), one thing is for sure :
The more we taste the more our preconceptions are humbled.

All the best to you in the New Year my dear,

Brooklynguy said...

Tista!! happy new year to you too, my friend.