A Truly Great Wine Has Character And Soul

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - February 16, 2011
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We all have a friend or family member who is a true wine connoisseur. You know, the one who’s drinking all those great wines that you and I wish we could drink too: Chateau X, Domaine de la XXX and whatever. The quality of the wine they drink is simply astounding and makes our palates go doe-eyed thinking about them.

Yes, they drink great wine, but are they missing out on some great wines because they are too infatuated with name recognition and point scales?

I say yes. Many of my friends turn a blind eye (or palate) to wines they may not have heard of or seen the score on. But many of those wines can provide fabulous experiences. They just need to keep an open mind (or palate) for them.

Case in point: I was going to dinner with a few colleagues in a snazzy bistro in Paris. These wine industry people buy and drink wine for a living, so they all “know” their wine.

We looked at the wine list and they were looking for names they recognized. There were a few Bordeaux Chateau that were on the high end and a few Rhone wines that, because of their name recognition, were pretty highly priced as well.

As they threw out their suggestions for wines that we should drink that night, they handed me the wine list. By their choices, they were obviously looking to have a great bottle of wine. And as I perused the wine list I found a few bottles that I thought were better value, better to drink now and much less expensive.

So we all agreed on one bottle of something that was chosen by someone else in the group - a notable Chateau from a heralded vintage - and I was able to convince everyone on a bottle of village Vosne Romanee (Pinot Noir from Burgundy) from a “lesser” vintage, but one that I knew would be drinking very well.

The Bordeaux was rich, thick but quite closed. The Burgundy was “ready” and seductive. The bottle of Burgundy was first to disappear and we even ordered a second bottle, while the Bordeaux, which I think scored a 95 point rating according to the person suggesting it, sat in the decanter until all the Burgundy was gone.

This happens more often than you think. I have a friend who is a wine importer who invited a few guests to his home for dinner. The guests brought a bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy from one of the top domains and one of the greatest vintages in the past 20 years. The host, though, brought out a bottle of Grenache-based Rhone wine from an underrated vintage. They drank up the Rhone wine and actually left half the bottle of Grand Cru Burgundy on the table.

Sometimes “great” wines don’t show their greatness. The bottle has variance or wasn’t stored properly. It can certainly be food-centric, where the food will go better with something other than a “great” wine.

There are some “great” wines that do taste great, but don’t have much soul. Soul is difficult to pinpoint in a wine; some might say inef-fable, but a taste knows when it’s there. It is a character that defines its identity, not just its flavor. That is what is so alluring about wine for me. It is that search to find the wines with not just great flavor, but with soul. Like a musician who may not have the greatest voice but sings a song with so much expression and verve that it touches you. Wine can do the same and, to me, that is what makes a wine great.

Recommendation: 2008 Peay Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($45) I was taken aback when I tasted this wine because it was so elegant and balanced. It has such a great nose with sultry fruit and a delicate lace of vanilla. It is superbly elegant and sophisticated.

2006 Ladoucette Pouilly Fume ($32) If you’ve ever wondered how Sauvignon Blanc ages, you should taste this. It is citrus and minerals and more with a hint of spice and melons: complexity that keeps coming in waves.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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