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Posts Tagged ‘wine pleasure’

What Is A Good Wine?

April 19, 2016 11 comments

wine_in_a_glassLet’s say you are given a glass of wine. Can you tell if this is a good wine or not? Before you will jump on the obvious, let me clarify this question a bit – the wine is in the perfect condition – it is not corked, it is not cooked, it is not oxidized – there are no common faults of any kind, this is just a well made bottle of wine. So, is it good or not?

Is this question even makes sense? Can such a question be answered? Let’s talk about something more common first – food. Imagine you are in a restaurant for dinner, with friends and family. The dishes start arriving, and here is a side of french fries. There is a very good chance that if the fries are executed properly – good color, nice consistent cut, crispy and not soggy, with the right amount of salt, tasting fresh – everybody at the table would universally agree that “the fries are good”, and you can only hope that there were enough fries ordered for everybody to share. What  also important here is that nobody would be shy to slam these very french fries if something is not up to snuff – too much salt, fried in the old oil etc – everybody is confident in their ability to judge french fries to be universally good and tasty, or not.

Stepping up from the side dish, let’s take a look at the main dishes ordered around the table. Someone got steak, someone got lobster, someone is enjoying vegetarian lasagna. Now, it would be much harder to build taste consensus around the table for all these dishes. One person likes steak rare, and the other one only eats it well done – it will be very hard for these two to agree what is good and what is not. Someone might be allergic to a shellfish – there is no way they can even touch the sauce from that lobster dish to attest to your “this is sooo good” claim. So yes, it is hard to build a consensus here, but people are confident in their own right about the dishes they ordered to be able to judge good or not. If steak doesn’t have the right level of doneness, it will be sent back. If lobster is not seasoned right – well, not sure about “sent back”, but I’m sure the problem with the dish will be stated and discussed at the table.  And of course if one states that their dish is delicious, then the whole table must try at least a tiny bit to experience “the goodness” (at least this is how it works in our family).

Now, arriving at a wine, the situation is different, and often dramatically. Unlike french fries, the wine still has an aura of mystery, of a special knowledge required to be able to understand and appreciate it, and to claim if it is good or not. The same people who are very confident to send underdone or overly salty (to their personal taste!) steak back to the kitchen, will be very shy and even afraid to say anything if the wine is obviously corked – they will take it as their own inability to properly understand the wine, and therefore will not say anything. Of course the situation is not as consistently dramatic as I present it here – wine today is very popular, and increasing number of people feeling confident enough around it to state what they like and not; however, step out of the oenophile circle, and go dine with people who drink wine occasionally, and I guarantee you will hear “ahh, I don’t know anything about wine” as an answer to the question if they like the wine or not.

In reality, making a personal “good/not good” decision about the wine is as easy as in the case of french fries. I took the “Windows on the World” wine school back in the day, which was taught by Kevin Zraly – Kevin is single-handedly responsible for teaching tens of thousands of people to understand and appreciate the wine. Of course, the question “is this a good wine or not” was one of the most important questions people wanted to get an answer for in such a course. Kevin’s explanation was very simple: “Take a sip of this wine. If this wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine”. You can look at it as overly simplistic, as there are many factors affecting the perceived taste of wine – where we are, who we are with, the label, the story behind the label, the temperature, the mood, yada, yada, yada. Of course this all matters. But still, for majority of the cases, we are looking for pleasure out of drinking the glass of wine – the way it smells, the way it tastes, with all the little discoveries we make as we let the wine open up and change in the glass (“ahh, I taste blueberries and chocolate now”) – all those little pleasant moments we experience with every sip, it gives us a pleasure of enjoying a glass of wine; if we are getting the pleasure, this is a good wine. Yep, I said it was simple.

Very often pleasure is simplistically associated with erotic and sex, or at least that would be the very first thing which will come to the mind of many once they hear the word “pleasure” – oh no, I see your condemning look, of course I’m not talking about you, you are wired differently. Meanwhile, we derive pleasure from everything which surrounds us, and from everything we do – and if we don’t, we work hard to fix it. Every waking moment of our day is a perfect illustration to this. If we start our day from a walk or maybe a meditation – it is a pleasure of being one on one with yourself, deep in your own thoughts. Think about the pleasure of hugging that morning cup of coffee or tea and smelling the aroma. We look at the watch on our hand – it doesn’t have to be the Rolex or Philippe Patek to be admired and to create a feeling of pleasure. We put on a shirt or a blouse, look in the mirror – and we are pleased with the way we look (okay, fine, we might not be – but again, then we get to work hard to fix it). After the day at work, we come home to be welcomed by a wagging tail and a scream “mommy is home” followed by a huge smile and a hug – tell me that this is not what defines pleasure. No, not everything we do gives us pleasure – but those little bits and pieces of pleasure are what we seek, every time, every day.

Wine is simply a complementing part of our lives. Today we are in the mood for the white shirt, tomorrow – for the blue with yellow stripes; similarly, today you might want the glass of Pinot Noir, tomorrow it can be Tempranillo. We are constantly changing, and so do the things which we will get the pleasure from. People go from carnivores to vegetarians to vegans and back to carnivores – as long as we find pleasure in the way we are at the moment, that is all that matters. No matter what is in your glass, if it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. It really doesn’t matter what the experts said about the wine you are drinking. It really doesn’t matter what your friends say. If this is White Zinfandel in your glass, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is massive, brooding Barolo, and it gives you pleasure, it is a good wine. If this is big, oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, and it gives you pleasure, this is a good wine – don’t let anyone who says that Chardonnay should be unoaked and acidic to persuade you otherwise. It is okay to have your own, individual taste – we do it with everything else, and wine shouldn’t be any different.

If the wine gives you pleasure, it is a good wine.

This post is an entry for the 24th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC24), with the theme of “Pleasure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New.

 

Of Wine And Balance

March 21, 2015 13 comments

Domaine de Saint Paul CdPWhen assessing the wine, there are many characteristics which are important. The color, the intensity and the type of the aromas on the nose, the bouquet, body and flavors on the palate, the finish. When I’m saying “important”, I don’t mean it in the form of the fancy review with “uberflowers”, “dimpleberries” and “aromas of the 5 days old steak”. All the characteristics are important for the wine drinker thyself, as they help to enhance the pleasure drinking of the wine.

One of the most important wine characteristics for me is balance. Well, I’m sure not only for me, otherwise the organizations such as IPOB (In Pursuit Of Balance) wouldn’t even exist. Of course as everything else around wine, the concept of the balance is highly personable – or is it? What makes the wines balanced? What does it even mean when we say that “the wine is balanced”? This is the big question, and I don’t mean to ponder at it at a great depth, as this is a purposefully a short post. But nevertheless, let’s just take a quick stub at it, shall we?

In my own definition, the wine is balanced when all the taste components are, well, in balance. Okay, don’t beat me up – we can replace the word “balance” with the word “harmony”. In a typical glass of a red wine, you will find acidity, fruit and tannins (which is mostly a perceived tactile sensation in the form of drying feeling in your mouth). You will also often find other flavors such as barnyard, toasted oak or burning matches, which are typically imparted by the vineyard’s soil and/or a winemaking process, choice of yeast, type of aging and so on. But – in the balanced wine, nothing should stand out – you don’t want to taste only fruit, only tannins or only acidity – you want all the components to be in harmony, you want them to be complementing each other, enhancing the pleasure you derive from drinking of the wine.

And then you got an alcohol. On one side, I should’ve listed the alcohol above, as one of the components of the taste – alcohol often can be associated with the perceived “weight” of the wine in your mouth, which we usually call a “body”. Alcohol can be also related to the so called “structure”. But the reason I want to single out an alcohol is because way too often, we tend to use it to set our expectations of the balance we will find in the glass of wine, as this is the only objective, measured descriptor listed on the bottle. You might not taste the “raspberries and chocolate” as the back label was promising, but if it says that the wine has 14.5% “Alcohol by Volume” (ABV), this would be usually very close to the truth. Of course there is a correlation in the perceived balance and the alcohol in the wine – if you taste alcohol in direct form when you drink wine, it will render the wine sharp, bitter and clearly, unbalanced. But – and this is a big but – can we actually use the ABV as an indicator of balance, or is it more complicated than that?

When IPOB started, this was their premise – search for the wines with lower alcohol content (don’t know if it still is). Typical ABV in the old days was 13.9% (there were also tax implications of crossing that border). So should we automatically assume that any wine which boasts 14.5% ABV will not be balanced? I do have a problem with such approach. I had the wines at the 13.5% ABV, which were devoid of balance – including one from the very reputable Napa producer who will remain unnamed. And then there is Loring Pinot Noir, where ABV is dancing right under 15% (at 14.7% to 14.9%). Pushing envelope even further, you got Turley and Carlisle Zinfandels, where ABV is squarely stationed between 15% and 16% (occasionally exceeding even that level). Have you tasted Loring, Turley or Carlisle wines? How did you find them? To me, these wines are absolutely spectacular, with balance been a cornerstone of pleasure.

What prompted this post was the wine I had yesterday – 2007 Domaine de Saint Paul Cuvée Jumille Chateauneuf-du-Pape (95% Grenache, 5% Muscardin), which was absolutely delicious, and perfectly balanced, with round, smokey, chocolatey profile. The wine also had a touch of an interesting sweetness on the finish, which prompted me to look carefully at the label – and then my eyes stopped at 15% ABV, with the first thought was “this is amazing – I don’t find even a hint of the alcohol”. Judging by this ABV number alone, the “alcohol burn” would be well expected.

Yes, the notion of the balance is personal. Still – what makes the wine balanced? Can we say that some types of grapes, such as Grenache or Zinfandel, for instance, are better suited to harmoniously envelope higher alcohol levels? Is it all just in the craft, skill, mastery and magic of the winemaker? I don’t have the answers, I only have questions – but I promise to keep on digging. Cheers!

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