What are the most important factors that affect the way you taste wine? Is it the inherent quality of the wine itself and its potential to communicate itself lucidly? Do your expectations condition how you taste; are you a label junkie? Or is that any fine wine may be thoroughly muted by being served in awful wine glasses, or at the wrong temperature? Or that the food and the surroundings must be appropriate? All of these are, of course, significant contributing factors to one’s enjoyment of wine, but, the greatest, and what can turn the promise of fruit into ashes in your mouth, is your mood, and the company in which you are tasting. (I am not talking the more impersonal surroundings of a large wine event when dozens, even hundreds, of wines are being tasted).
Petrus – What is the wine about? Imagine a cathedral lit with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, a stave of oak, a punnet of blackcurrants and the gospel according to Robert Parker.
(With apologies to HG Wells)
We can be a bit precious with our genuflective approaches to appreciating wine. Some of my most pleasurable experiences of wine (fine wine) have involved necking it from the bottle à la Withnail. I have literally gulped great 1er cru Gevrey-Chambertin on the hoof with the most evil greasy doner kebab imaginable (perverse needs must) – twas nectar – experienced myriad similar crazy happy juxtapositions and epiphanies. Thirty years after swigging Chateau Talbot 78 from the bottle under a Hebridean night sky heaving with stars I can still summon up the exact aromas and flavours of this beautiful wine. Wine is the means and the end of enjoyment, the catalyst for mood music. Who needs a polished Zalto glass and a table laden with Michelin standard food when you have the great outdoors and captivating views?
A negative frame of mind kills beauty stone dead. Deader than a dusty wine glass. I have a theory that wine responds to the personality and the disposition of the individual who is tasting. I have a couple of friends who seem to wear metaphorical lab coats the whole time, super analysing the liquid for defects – as if the wine should be reduced to the sum total of said defects. The wine itself seems to shrink under such merciless magnification as the taster puts him or herself not only above the wine but above everything that makes the wine unique or personal. The same wine, experienced with open-minded folk, who are determined to discover interest and enjoyment and may also want to understand why the wine is the way that it is, seems to blossom with the relaxed energy of such positive company. Go figure!
We all know people who suck the joy of wine and make us doubt that this was ever a beautiful, living liquid. The power of negative thought is, to coin a proverb, the proverbial fly in the glass.