Taking Time To Appreciate Tasting Wine

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - January 26, 2011
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In the new world, wine tasting is like speed dating. Wine is tasted in small quantities from one bottle to the next. Each wine spends literally only minutes in the glass and even less time on the palate. It’s a quick “Hello my name is ... and see you later.” The taster looks for the flavors he or she likes, much like taking a quick “once over” of the date, and then moves on to the next one.

Are we so bored and so yearning for something new that we are afraid to find it right in front of us?

In the old world, they have different sensibilities toward tasting wine. Have you met an old world “power taster?” I haven’t. They seem to linger longer with the wine and taste fewer wines at any given time.

And rightly so, in my view. Wine develops in the glass over time. So many of us miss the evolution because we are already on to the next wine. Like a person, wine cannot tell you its entire story in just a few minutes. Yes, one can taste its flavors, feel its structure and get a quick sketch of whether it is pleasing or not. But the complexities and nuances - its true character - cannot be revealed in such a short time as a quick 2-ounce pour.

The story of the wine is not told over simply one bottle either. One must taste and taste it over time. This is something I encourage any wine drinker - and especially those in the trade - to do. Tasting it from bottle to bottle from vintage to vintage - that is how you truly can contact the identity of a wine. It takes time to know someone, years in fact. To get to know a wine, the estate, its sense of identity - its soul, if you will - takes time.

Time is something we don’t give enough to things such as wine, much less other facets of our lives. Our attention span is only getting smaller. Our society has a condition call ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), which some look upon as a handicap, something to be medicated. Yet, in our own way, we are in danger of purposely taking our social psyche toward this same condition. We eat more quickly, drink more quickly, stay married for shorter periods of time, get bored too quickly, read shorter books, drive more quickly and live quicker lives. When will we slow down? But I digress.

Wine, thankfully, takes time. It can lead us away from the breakneck pace of life. It ages, some more gracefully than others. But when a wine has a soul, a sense of place, that same place shows through every time. It may be seen through different spectrums of vintage or times during its evolution. But however it is seen, it is there. This is something old-world winemakers seem to take more personally than others.

In many cases, the wine that is being made in the old world has been made for generations. This plot of earth and these vines are family heirlooms that they cherish and are connected to. It is not only their job, it is their livelihood and it is a part of their own identity. Each successive winemaker and generation adds its own chapter to the novel.

How are we to take all this into our own experience in a mere taste, a minuscule few minutes? In the old world, flavor is not the be all, end all of the wine. It is as important whether the wine speaks of the place, how it expresses the vintage. It does not matter as much how much ripeness, acidity, tannin or fruit the wine had in the vintage - but does it express the season from which it was grown? They have a more eternal sense of what they are producing.

So we should spend more time getting to know a wine. See the wine in context and breathe with it a while. Take the time to do this and you’ll discover more about wine and anything else you care to linger over.

Recommendations: 2008 Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone Red ($13) This wine is an unbelievable value! Sweet ripe strawberry and blackberry fruit lead into spices and a richness that is oh so satisfying. 2009 Votre Sante Pinot Noir ($13) Another terrific value. This has smooth cherries written all over it with a rounded edge of vanilla and violets.

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