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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Not Quite Right

You open a bottle.

You pour it into the glass.

You look at it.  You swirl and sniff it.  You taste it.

Repeat.  And again.  And again.

Something is not quite right.  But what, then?  It doesn’t look right, or it doesn’t smell right, or it doesn’t taste right, or it doesn’t feel right?  Why?

Perhaps the bottle is corked or the wine is flat out defective - it wasn’t made correctly - something was wrong with it right from the beginning, or it wasn’t sealed properly, or for a long time it wasn’t stored correctly.  Or maybe it’s in its awkward stage.  Or maybe it’s past its peak time and is on a serious decline and can no longer show as well as it once had.

Have we tasted this wine/grape/region/producer/vineyard/vintage before?  Did we know what to expect and did the wine fail to meet our expectations, or was it just a defective bottle?

What about this - let’s say you open a bottle, and you’ve had this wine over and over and over again.  You’ve always enjoyed it, which is why you continue to open more bottles of it.  But not this time.  But it’s not because the wine is corked.  And maybe it’s not a bad vintage at all.  But something isn’t quite right.  You’re no longer connecting with this wine anymore.  What do you do?  Do you continue to open more bottles of it, hoping that you’ll go back to enjoying and loving it again, as you once had?  Do you begin to question yourself and your taste regularly now, wondering why this wine no longer inspires you?  Or do you cut off your supply of that wine, once and for all, never to return to it again?

Perhaps you’ve lost your faith in that wine.  But why?  Is it just this one isolated instance where a problem has come up?  Or has the wine been leaving you feeling less than satisfied the past several times you’ve opened a bottle?  And why?  What is it that’s wrong?  Does it no longer sparkle and shine in the glass, giving off a radiant color, or perhaps the aromas and flavors no longer appeal to you or interest you or keep you coming back for more?  Or maybe the structure no longer seems right - it’s lacking something or maybe the length and finish aren’t what you had hoped for?

Did you have unreasonable expectations?  Or did it just flat out come up short?  Or, worse, did it come up short AGAIN, disappointing you and leaving you wondering if maybe that wine just isn’t for you anymore - now what?

I love wines that inspire me.  What I love even more is a wine that I’ve tasted over and over again and each time I learn something new about it or connect even better with it.  On the other hand, I tire of the wines that no longer inspire me.  I resent the bottles that come up short and fail to meet my expectations.  What if my expectations were perfectly reasonable - I understand the grape and the region and style and vintage - so what excuse does that bottle have for coming up short?

Maybe the Champagne had lost its bubbles.  Maybe the Chablis lacked the proper acidity.  Maybe the Margaux had an uncharacteristically short finish.  Maybe the Nebbiolo was past its peak now.  But something is not quite right.  Now what?

When I open a bottle, I want to love it.  What makes me love it and keep on loving it is how it makes me feel.  If it inspires me, makes me think, and appeals to my senses, keeps me guessing, and makes the experience exciting, then I’m all in.  Anything else, and for me it’s just pointless.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ugly Realities

We have all kinds of friends, but, at least for me, the most trusted and often the most treasured are the ones who not only share in our joys and sorrows and build us up, but also they know how to be [brutally] honest with us, sometimes pointing out the cold, hard truths that we might not necessarily want to hear, but we have to.

For me, wine plays a special part in my life, as I’m sure it does for a lot of people.  There are the celebratory wines, my go-to Pinot Noir when I’m having a sad day (I have no explanation for this, but on those days, I just want Pinot), my thought provoking and inspiring, almost “cerebral” wines, and there are my learning experience wines too.  If we let them, they really can tell us so much and we can learn a lot from them.

I had a thought yesterday after a conversation with my wine-industry-veteran boyfriend regarding great vintages of Bordeaux, and discussing the differences and virtues of the 2009 and 2010 vintages.  I started musing about when the 2010s might peak, and we decided that some of the great wines really do have a lifespan nearly as long as that of a human being in reasonably good health.

That’s when I had a borderline bone-chilling though that stayed with me the remainder of the day - when some of the great wines peak, many of the people who were present at their release will not be there for their peak.  Why?  Because sometimes the distance in years between release and peak time exceeds that of the years remaining on a person’s life, depending on how old the person is at the time of release.

It was particularly disturbing to me, and you may wonder why, as I’m only 30 years old and was in my 20s when the 2009s and 2010s were released - but most of my family, friends, and boyfriend, clearly were not in their 20s when those wines were released, and I began to wonder who will be here to experience some peak times for the more recent great wines.  For me, that’s an ugly reality and a cold, hard fact, taught to me by the wines I love so much.  I realize nothing in life is certain, but considering I’m still pretty young, I began to wonder what life will be like for me when, say, a 2010 Bordeaux is at its peak, and I’m ready to open it.  Who will be here with me to enjoy it?

I have a friend in the industry who has been like a mentor to me over the past few years.  He’s said some things, often about wine, that have made me think twice (or more).  Something he asks me often is, “When are you going to open it?  What are you waiting for?  Are you waiting until you die?”  We all know and understand that some wines have to wait a while before we can really enjoy them at their best, but sometimes I stop and think, and have a desire to open a bottle even if it’s a little young, just to make sure that the experience did happen.

The discussion yesterday about the great vintages, and which ones might peak at what time, and my thoughts of what it’ll be like and who will still be here, was a harsh, unpleasant reality.  Yes, we want ageworthy wines that literally keep time in a bottle, almost like a time capsule of what that year was like and who was involved with the making of the wine, but at what cost do we have to wait?

I, for one, am beginning to realize that, if I had to choose, I’d rather experience a wine a bit earlier than to wait so long that I’m forced to open it alone.

My friend has also noted that he believes wines often appear to taste and smell and feel better to the drinker if we are in a happy place, surrounded by those we love.  He’s right.  So in case a wine isn’t showing its absolute best, because I opened it slightly too soon, I’ll probably still enjoy it as if it were perfect, because I’m in that happy place, experiencing the wine with those people that I love.  And for me, that’s no real concession anyway.  Think of the end of Sideways, when Miles eventually opens his 1961 Cheval Blanc - alone.  Yes, he waited for peak time, but what of it?

2009 Bordeaux is special to me.  For my preferences, considering I generally prefer wines to be older, I still love what seems like an approachable nature of the 2009 vintage, as opposed to the 2010s that I feel will make me wait, perhaps too long.  Thank goodness for 2009 - I’ll be sharing those before long.