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Mystery of Wine

January 12, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

MWWC_logo“Mystery” is a theme of the sixth round of the Monthly Wine Writing Competition, as selected by the originator of the series and winner of the previous round, The Drunken Cyclist.

Wine is a strange thing. If you think about it rationally, wine is just a fermented grape juice. This is where the mystery starts – how come this fermented grape juice became so important that it even made it into the Bible? How was this fermented grape juice discovered for the first time? How did it happened that this fermented grape juice became an object of study, worship, love, hate, desire, crime, greed, excitement, awe, horror, passion (continue the list on your own)? How come this fermented grape juice is such a facilitator of emotion? These are the mysteries of the wine, the fermented grape juice, and these mysteries are countless.

The subject of wine is vast, it allows all of us, people who are “into the wine” – oenophiles, aficionados, snobs, buffs, casual wine drinkers – whatever designation speaks to you – to ponder at all the different sides of all “things wine”, to find our own mysteries. Starting from the growing of the grapes, harvesting them, making the wine and getting it into the bottle, the mysteries are abound every step of the way. Once the  wine goes into the bottle, this is when the actual “wine’s life” begins – of course,  with its own set of mysteries, one of the biggest of which is a simple question: when to drink this wine?

The wine in the bottle is a living thing. It is changing all the time. It has its ups and downs, lows and highs. We have no way of knowing if the wine is at its”peak” until we open the bottle. Once the bottle is opened, there is no way of putting the wine back if we think we didn’t hit it right. Anyone who ever experienced the wine at its peak will tell you that you get an uncounted amount of pleasure from each and every sip. The moment we take on the opening of the bottle is a decision moment to solve that mystery – is this wine ready to give us tremendous joy – or not. Open the bottle too soon, when the wine is too young – and you don’t know what did you miss, what this wine could’ve become if you would only give it another 2, 5 or 10 years. Open the bottle too late, and you have so many regrets that you will never find out how great this wine was at its peak. Either way, the mystery will remain a mystery. Yes, you can listen to the experts about “wine drinking window”. You can solicit the opinion of your family, your friends, the bloggers and wine writers of all walks. You will build your own expertize. But every time with the bottle in one hand and the corkscrew in another, the mystery will be unsettling, until that corks is pulled and the wine will be going into the glass. And your hits and misses are unavoidable. You will go from “wow!” to “I can’t believe THIS WINE tastes likes this, what happened?”.

Every time I’m opening the bottle of wine, I’m experiencing the thrill of solving the mystery. Same as everybody else, I’m influenced by the label, by what I read about the wine, by the opinion of the others, by my prior experience. But those are only expectations – and those should be managed. Better yet, the expectations should be ignored. To solve the mystery, the cork must be pulled. And then… The best one is when you simply say “wow, this is amazing!”. Even then, is that the end of the mystery, you think? Quite often, this is not. As the true mystery will remain forever, unsolved, expressed by the two words: “how come?!”.

Need an example? I have one for you. Here is my mystery case in point:

Chateau Ste. Michelle Orphelin

Chateau Ste. Michelle Orphelin

2004 Chateau Ste. Michelle Orphelin Red Wine, Columbia Valley (13.9% ABV). It was one of my most favorite wines ever. I don’t remember the exact price, but I’m sure it was under $15, most likely even under $12 – I used to by this wine by the case. It was my favorite go to wine to share with the guests. Beautiful dark clean fruit, medium to full body, good firm tannins, balancing acidity – this was a pleasure in the glass. I was so disappointed when I was told ( I think some time in 2009, I might be off on that) – “you are buying the last bottles”. What? Why? The wine was only made for two years, 2004 and 2005 – and that was the end of it.

Okay, but I still had a few bottles in my wine fridge. And I remember to happily taking one of the bottles of 2004 Orphelin for a great occasion – Wine Century Club dinner, I believe in May of 2010. Those Wine Century Club dinners were arranged to take place all over the world on the same day, and we (Wine Centurions) were in competition with ourselves, trying to taste more unique and different grapes than we tasted last time. Thus my reason to bring this wine was two fold – yes, it was one of my favorites, but  – it also packed in one bottle a very impressive line up of grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Souzao and Touriga – yeah, that’s what we call “the bang for the buck”.

So the cork was pulled, the wine was poured, the first sip is taken – and yes, my first thought, amplified by the facial expressions of the people around me, was “what happened”? The wine, instead of being great and energetic, was clearly past prime – a bit of the cooked fruit flavors, weak acidity, only the hint of the old greatness. How was that possible?  The bottle was stored in the wine fridge all the time, and only recently it had being fresh and great. Yes, I heard that such a complex blends don’t age too well – but this was a great wine, how come?

Fast forward to December 2013. While going through the wine fridge, looking for the bottle to open (I love the fact that I have no system of storing the wines whatsoever – that allows me to extend the pleasure of touching many bottles in the search of one), I saw all of a sudden the familiar squares. Ha, what is that? I pulled the bottle of 2005 Orphelin. Ahh yes, now I recall – I also have a bottle of 2004 somewhere. Okay, fine, let’s free some space – let’s open the 2005. It probably will be “meh”, but okay. And it was … not! Had enough dark fruit both on the nose and the palate, not a sign of aging, supple tannins and robust acidity – definitely a pleasure to drink.

After the success of 2005, my thought was – so what is happening with 2004? How is that going to fare now? Will we be in for a treat or a bust?

Bottle found, cork is pulled, 2004 Orphelin pours into a glass. Dark ruby color, not a sign of age. The nose – perfectly fresh dark fruit, blackberries with a touch of plums. Palate – dense, firm, weaved together by the dark fruit and balancing acidity – clearly a perfect wine, at its peak – and I have no idea for long this peak will last.

Well, the duration of the peak is not that important anymore, as it was my last bottle. What happened with that wine back in 2010? What is a fluke, the bad bottle? Or was I super-lucky with my last bottle, which was not supposed to last that long,  and it was just a pure luck, one out of a thousand? This will remain a mystery, which will never be solved. But I guess this is for the better. Every time, when pulling the cork, we are faced with the mystery – which we don’t need to solve. We only need to enjoy it. Let’s drink to the mysteries of our lives. Cheers!



  1. January 12, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Interesting. I need to buy several bottles of one wine to experiment. My bet would go with bad bottle but who am I to say? Great piece.

    • talkavino
      January 12, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks Alissa! Actually, there was more than one bottle in a middle which were questionable. And this is not the only wine – I had very similar experience with 2004 Jade Mountain Syrah, were my last bottle a few month ago was outstanding, and a number of the bottles before it were hinting that they are on their way out… Getting more than one bottle is always advisable, as if this is your one and only bottle, the tension exacerbates dramatically…

  2. Antisocial Patty
    January 12, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    A great take on the theme, Anatoli! This was a fun read. And you know CSM holds a special place in my heart. 🙂

    • talkavino
      January 13, 2014 at 12:58 am

      Thank you Patty! Glad you liked it!

  3. January 12, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    love this post, Anatoli 🙂

    • talkavino
      January 13, 2014 at 12:59 am

      Thank you Kirsten!

  4. January 12, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Love your point about touching bottles as you search for and decide on what you’re hoping to open. It is so cool to move through your stash to find that one bottle. Great post. And have to agree with Patty CSM is one of my favs too.

    • talkavino
      January 13, 2014 at 1:02 am

      Thanks Bill! Yes, I like that process, but sometimes get really annoyed with myself after moving every shelf and still not able to decide what bottle to open : )

  5. January 12, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Really enjoyed this post, very nicely done. That truly is a mystery. I’m sure there were many barrels, maybe there was one rogue barrel that was bad and that one bottle came from the bad barrel. Too bad it’s no longer available.

    • talkavino
      January 13, 2014 at 1:03 am

      Thanks Suzanne! You might be right about one barrel – but this mystery will remain unsolved : )

  6. January 13, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Reblogged this on mwwcblog.

  7. January 14, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Great post, Anatoli! Too bad that wine is no more…

    • talkavino
      January 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

      Thanks, Stefano. Yep, it was my last bottle. With my low expectations, I didn’t even think about sharing it…

  8. January 16, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Great post, Anatoli! It’s so amazing how despite similar storing conditions, bottles seem to age differently. It’s one of the prime fascinations for me, because it makes wine so interesting, but it can also be the prime frustration when things go awry….

    Regarding “drinking window”, I just read the suggested drinking window WS listed for a 2011 Vinate port it awarded 96 points: 2040-2060. Yeah, thanks for that….

    • talkavino
      January 17, 2014 at 8:13 am

      Thanks Oliver! Glad to say that we see things the same way – when opening the bottle, you never know what to expect, and that makes it great. Yes, there are bad surprises, but the good surprises always win : )
      The drinking window which starts 16 years out in the future? There is no science there, so I’m really curious how someone can say that the wine will reach its peak in 16+ years down the road? Also, considering that this is Port, I’m sure that it will be perfectly enjoyable every year from now onwards – it will change with time, but still, there is no need to wait that long…

      • January 17, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        I know. What are they even basing these predictions on? Because they read somewhere how a wine they think might compare (because of growing conditions, chemical analysis) with the the 2011? I just find it bogus, frankly, and am with you: This port will likely be very good already.

  9. January 18, 2014 at 11:13 am

    I love surprises in wine. Enjoyable post as always. I’ll drink to the mystery of our lives 🙂

    • talkavino
      January 18, 2014 at 11:24 am

      Thanks Sally! To amplify the mystery, drink the wine you never had before!

  1. January 14, 2014 at 9:13 am
  2. January 18, 2014 at 9:02 am

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