Saturday, July 25, 2009

Truth in taste

When I refer to tasting wine, I should clarify what I mean. Tasting is fundamentally different than drinking. Drinking satisfies a physiological need to slake thirst. Tasting occupies an entirely different spectrum of experience - one of intellectual and sensual stimulation.

I try to approach a wine the same way, regardless of pedigree or reputation. Who says there can't be profound $15 wines? Colour, bouquet, palate, finish - all of these tell me the conditions of the wine's terroir, as well as how the winemaker has shaped the final product. And all of these bring me pleasure. Whether I find the taste pleasant is minor relative to detecting subtle differences against past wines.

We associate tastes to memories of what we have experienced in the past, and those associations bring great pleasure when you taste a wine. Wine, to me, is about understanding why a pinot noir growing in Central Otago tastes different than a pinot from Burgundy, and how a hot vintage affects a wine differently than a cool one. I will enjoy a distinct and unique wine, regardless if I find the taste pleasant or not.

That's what people are confused about, I think. The wine lover will rave about a distinct wine, even though it may not be a taste that they prefer. If I were to drink only wines that I find tasty, my wine list would be quite short indeed. The point of wine is to always try new regions, new vintages, new varietals. By opening yourself to the vast amount of different wines being produced, you not only develop your tasting abilities, but also find wines that you develop a taste for. An example for me is German riesling and the wines of Southwest France.

Truth in wine is the idea that wine lovers are looking for a wine that is transparent. We look for wines that speak directly of where they come from, and wines that have a clear identity. We care little for wines that are ambiguous - a New Zealand pinot noir that tastes the same as its Oregonian counterpart, for example. We admire and appreciate a wine's soul and song, even if we don't particularly favour that particular style.

Like people, wines would be very boring indeed if they (and we) were all alike.

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