I recently read something in a comment stream from Palate Press’s article about why people don’t read wine blogs. Jeff Siegel of The Wine Curmudgeon said this: Nobody wants to read about your drive up to the winery.
This remark didn’t really get me stirred up at first—not until the next time I was actually driving up to a winery. Then, I couldn’t escape the voices in my head as they taunted and teased me… Really? No one wants to hear about this stuff? People don’t want to have the scene dramatically set with an intricate depiction of the wineries, their vineyards and the countryside elaborately painted for them using only the power of creative imagery and the written word?
My fear is that next, I’m going to hear someone spouting how no one wants to read about anybody’s personal journeys through wine either.
One of the many things I’ve discovered along my travels thus far is in order to really learn about a wine, you must immerse yourself in more than just the look, smell, taste and score of the fermented fruit beverage. This immersion requires engaging all five senses, visual included of course. But I’m talking beyond what color the wine is in your glass and how viscous or thin it appears. It’s certainly a whole lot more than how that label looks and whether it’s a classic Old World or funky, kitschy or colorful modern design… and it’s clearly more than the shape of the bottle. All these things together though, along with a million other unknown influences as well, do flavor our experience; hence the argument for blind tasting (meaning you cover up the bottle so you can’t see the producer, label, varietal, etc… when you taste it).
This may sound silly to some, but studies have shown that something as simple as the color of the room will flavor your tasting experience. So unless you’re actually blindfolded while tasting that wine, your impression of a wine is even bound to be influenced by where that wine’s consumed. Think about it this way, will that glass of Archery Summit Pinot Noir taste the same if you were to drink it at say Chuck E Cheese’s as it would if it were slowly sipped from fine crystal stemware on the elegantly casual wine country deck perched high atop the Red Hills of Dundee overlooking the fertile Willamette Valley with majestic views of Mt Hood that may very well take your breath away? I doubt it.
The reason a wine sometimes tastes so much better at the winery (perhaps Robert Parker is onto something?) seems obvious, but really it’s not. It’s not simply the color and lighting in the tasting room, or that the wine has been stored properly (at its source) and hasn’t’ traveled by unrefrigerated trucks and then displayed on warm, well-lit shelves for months. It’s not just the emotions evoked when you were driving up to the winery, passed neatly spaced rows of old vineyards dripping with ripening grape clusters or that you’re drinking it with Mr. McSteamy- or Mrs. McDreamy-Winemaker, absorbing some of their passion as they divulge the deepest, darkest secrets about that wine in your glass. For instance, as you remark about the forest floor aromatics you pick up on the wine, the winemaker heartily laughs as he tells you a story about the clumsy Kiwi harvest worker who would tromp around the muddy vineyard each morning measuring the brix and then return to the winery to do punch downs without changing his boots. Well, after slipping and falling into the fermenter twice, they found another job for him, but admitted that vintage seemed very earthy.
All kidding aside, it really must be a combination of the factors I mentioned, and more, because for most, the wine tasting experience is quixotic—involving elements of romance, ideals, impracticality and mysticism that aren’t as much physical as they are mental and psychological, yet all individually unique and precisely unpredictable. And it’s all of these ingredients, which come together to create, and image and construct a more powerful memory of wine, one you’ll sincerely take to heart. Can a blind tasting or numbered score do that?
In article published on Palate Press called Wine Writing in the Time of Technology, Ben Simons of Vinotology eloquently said, "Ultimately, those of us who write about wine are looking for the best way to describe an experience that is inherently personal and subjective." I couldn't agree more. My job, and greatest challenge as the chief and only writer for Sip with Me, is to convey the complete experience to my readers so they can have a genuine appreciation of a producer, help them develop a profound relationship with that wine by understanding the setting, the history, the background, the people, the hardships…, because (and I’m going out on a limb here, though I am firmly braced so bring it) a glass of wine is sometimes more than just a glass of wine and how it tastes blind.
Don’t get me wrong, while I support wine rating systems on most levels, I also feel that taste is always entirely subjective and even a perfectly balanced, well made wine may just not appeal to even the most knowledgeable and/or educated wine drinkers and might even taste and score differently to that same person depending on how green the room was, their own body’s pH level, what they ate for breakfast, who is sitting next to them or what past memories they might bring to the tasting table.
I’m certain there will always be those on either side of the fence; some want analytical reviews while others will seek personal accounts by someone whose passion allows them to explore a deeper, more intimate relationship with wine and values the complexity of information as much as they value the complexity of the wine they imbibe. I write for those looking for personal anecdotes, an escape from the everyday, some interesting historical morsel that makes a wine or winery more relevant or perhaps that sumpin, sumpin that just makes that wine a bit more sexy, because in the end, I believe it’s these genuine connections that enhance the wine tasting experience and make that wine utterly unforgettable.
Next time you open a bottle, pay attention to the evocative sound of the cork pop, listening to the age and the passage of time as it slowly leaks from the bottle. Pour yourself a glass, both watching and hearing the wine as it splashes against the bottom and begins to fill the glass. Hear the thick glug, glug, glug sound change in pitch and timbre as the glass fills up, triggering a sense of excited anticipation. (Mmm, did I just see you lick your lips?) If you perceive any of these things when you open a bottle, you can certainly relate to and must appreciate the enchantment each and every glass conjures up; just a little something to think about. Until we sip again…