by Jeff Miller of Artisan Family of Wines (Seven Artisans, Sly Dog Cellars, Red Côte)
One of the posts that I routinely read for authoring my Good Reads Wednesday blog is the Two Dogs, A Flamingo And A Bottle Of Wine blog. I don’t often include it because it’s mostly wine reviews of wines that I’m not familiar with. But one of this week’s posts on that blog, even though it’s a wine I’ve never tried, struck me as raising a number of issues that highlight why reviewing wines is so difficult and arbitrary. The wine was Sempre Vive 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The first comment that struck me was this one: “Despite being described as having “dark flavors” the first day the wine was harsh and sharp, even with an hour in a decanter.”
It is unfortunate that this comment reflects so much of wine marketing and more specifically how a marketer chooses to describe a wine. Sometimes I think that the description of the wine was made by somebody who had never tasted. Or, maybe more realistically, someone who had tasted it but really didn’t care what it tasted like. So what we get are descriptions of the wine that are most likely to drive sales, damn whether they are remotely close to describing the wine.
“Dark flavors” is a descriptor that will go along way towards selling a bottle of wine. The fact that the wine really lacks those flavors, well, who cares? Well, the consumer cares. But from the marketers point of view, better to sell the wine and have the consumer disappointed than not sell the wine at all.
The second comment that caught my attention was this one: “That said the wine improved greatly by the time a small steak came off the grill.” What this really points out is that wine is a moving target. Suppose you have a wine that improves with half an hour of the aeration? That’s not an uncommon or bizarre thing to happen by any means. So if the wine taster tastes it shortly after opening the bottle, the review is negative.
But if that wine is a little bit further down in the flight, and has been exposed to air longer, the review is positive. Same wine, different review.
Of course, I think many reviewers routinely allow their wines to air a bit before evaluating them. But what does this do for the wine that starts out great, and rapidly declines? That in fact is common with many older wines that lose their perfumed fragrances quickly with exposure to air.
Be that as it may, I don’t think many wine reviewers give their wines 24 hours exposure to air. But that, at least as far as this particular wine was concerned, made all the difference: “The next evening the remains of the steak were sliced and served at room temperature with some mustard and a flavored mayonnaise, sliced fresh tomatoes with olive oil and salt and toasted, rustic bread. I poured the second half of the wine into the decanter and then into the glass. The color was still light but the twenty four hours with some air exposure really helped this wine. The cherry flavors seemed to marry better with the reduced sense of tannin and acid. There was more depth to the wine and the finish was smoother and longer. In short - it took that long for this wine to come together.”
One final thing I took away from this review: this wine was a 1998. So it was 15 years old. It is quite possible that this wine, tasted maybe eight years ago, would have been much closer to the “dark flavors” that the winery used to describe this one. I have my doubts that this is really the case, but it’s hard to know with any certainty.
So you have a descriptor which is clearly inaccurate. Does this mean that it was always inaccurate? Or does it mean that it was accurate at one point in time but no longer?
Putting aside the issue of the “dark flavors” descriptor, was this a good wine or not? Shortly after being opened, it was not. An hour later, it was better. A day later it was much better still. So was this a good wine or not? I guess there is simply no clear, easy, answer to that question.