The Moods of Wine
Too often we try to look at complex matters in the simplest
way possible. We reduce them to black and white, rather than complex grades of
color. If we compare two similar objects, one must be ‘better’ than the other.
Nowhere is this more true than in the world of wine. Well-written descriptions
can make wine sound like something it is not; but more importantly, the way a
wine tastes is entirely dependent on the situation.
Many people have the experience of tasting the same wine on
two occasions, and having such dramatically different experiences that one
bottle is thought to be flawed. You first taste a wine on vacation, travelling to
Sonoma or Provence, and after enjoying a few glasses on a beautiful afternoon,
surrounded by other happy, relaxed people, you decide it is your new favorite
wine in the world. Months later, after a frustrating day at work and having
just burned dinner, with dogs barking and children crying in the other room,
you open a bottle of exactly the same wine. It tastes thin and acidic, lacking
all the delicate aromas and flavors that are now just a fond memory, and you
immediately conclude the wine ‘didn’t travel well’ or suffered some such
malady. It is the same wine, from the same producer, bottled from the same
vintage. What could possibly have happened?
The reality is that the senses of smell and taste are
connected in a way that is much more complex than we can imagine. The setting,
the company, the weather, and our emotions can make a simple wine taste
phenomenal or a great wine seem disappointing. 98-point scores and criticisms
of ‘poor vintages’ do not take into account any of these factors. In fact, most
people who taste wine professionally will tell you that outdoor humidity and
barometric pressure can play a large role in accounting for how different a
wine can taste from one day to another, or when tasted in different locales.
Before you decide that all is lost and you should just give up on wine, let me suggest a different approach. Consider the idea that there is a perfect wine for every situation! We all have ‘favorites’ and ‘house wines’ – the ones we turn to again and again the same way we might love certain comfort foods, like a simple roast chicken or macaroni and cheese. Just as we love certain foods only on special occasions, there are also particular wines we may enjoy with certain people or when we put on our nicest clothes. The most exciting wines, to me, are the ones I try without any preconceived notions. These are experiences, like ordering a particular dish for the first time, or having a great conversation with someone you have just met, or taking a wrong turn on a Sunday drive and discovering someplace you’ve never been before.
Peter Rutledge has owned and operated Norwich Wines and Spirits since 1996. A 1988 graduate of Dartmouth, he became fascinated with wine while in the restaurant business and spent several years in Sonoma before returning to the Upper Valley. Living in Norwich with his wife Charlotte and daughter Sophie, he continues to try new wines and broaden his horizons whenever possible.