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In praise of mindful wine tasting
A post from the archives that still holds good today ...
The other day I spent a good hour thinking about just four wines I was going to feature in a tasting*. I went back to them several times then re-tried them the next day to get the best sense I could of what they had to offer and how they’d pair with food.
That’s the absolute antithesis of the way professional wine tasters normally proceed. Huge line-up of wines. Pick up a glass, swirl, nose, slurp, spit. Repeat 150-odd times.
If you’re an experienced taster it reveals what the standout wines are and which are the ones not worth bothering about it but it in no way replicates the way the people we’re writing for would drink those wines, sipping (or - OK - gulping) them over a period of time, usually with a meal. There’s absolutely no joy in it.
Round about the same time I also tried - and re-tried - a case of six Beaujolais which changed massively in the 48 hours I had them open. The showier ones didn’t always stay showy. The more retiring ones that had tasted a bit one-dimensional often blossomed with a particular food (I tried them with different types of charcuterie and cheeses).
The way wines reveal themselves once the bottle is open gives you an insight to the way they will age. Tasting over a period of time also evens out the particular circumstances of the moment: the conditions in the room, the state of mind you’re in - even whether you’re tasting on a fruit or root day**, The mere act of swallowing rather than spitting is a more relaxed, less aggressive process that allows you to appreciate flavours and textures in the wine that might otherwise go undetected.
In an ideal world one would always taste wines over a certain price level - say £10 - like this. Why not cheaper wines too? Because they’re less complex, WISIWYG (What you See is What you Get) wines, designed for immediate consumption. But a more expensive wine will evolve in the glass and in the bottle as air interacts with it.
Until we all became overly concerned about putting people off wine the art of tasting was referred to as wine appreciation, a more accurate description of trying to understand what a wine is all about. Maybe we should use a more on-trend description these days - mindful wine tasting - for thinking more deeply about wine. I plan to do more of it.
* the wines, if you're interested, were a Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis, an Askos Verdeca, a Tiefenbrunner Lagrein and a Querciabella Chianti Classico, all from Armit Wines
** the term comes from the biodynamic calendar which divides the year up into four types of day - fruit and flower days (better for tasting) and leaf and root days (less good). Sounds like a lot of mumbo-jumbo but it’s surprising how often I find when I’m disappointed in a wine it turns out to be a leaf or a root day. Read more about biodynamics here.
You might also enjoy this longer post on the variables of wine tasting
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