When I’m in Rome, I occasionally go to mega-tastings where you pay 200 euros and up to sample some of the world’s greatest wines. I don't do it often, but such events provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to taste otherwise inaccessible bottles. For example, at Bibenda Day 2013 the organizers poured, among other notable wines, ’77 Valentini Trebbiano, ’90 Pergole Torte, ‘98 DRC Richebourg, ‘07 Ausone, and ‘95 Petrus. There were 23 wines total, all rare, for 350 euros. (http://www.bibenda.it/upload/attivita/001419_file.pdf)
Attending that event wasn’t an easy decision, but considering I'd never pay the going rate for any of those 23 bottles individually, I took the plunge. When all the dust had cleared, I was quite pleased. Most of the wines were excellent, but the Richebourg, Pergole Torte, and Petrus all surpassed my unrealistically high expectations. That same bottle of Chateau Petrus ’95 was on the cover of the first wine magazine I ever purchased, back in 1997.
A few weeks ago, my Rome wine friends and I attended a tasting of highly regarded Burgundies from 2010, an exceptional vintage in one of the world’s most hallowed wine regions. Check out this stellar lineup: Domaine Tortochot, Lavaux St. Jacques 1er Cru; Claude Dugat, Lavaux St. Jacques 1er Cru; Rossignol-Trapet, Latricieres-Chambertin Grand Cru; Domaine des Lambrays, Clos des Lambrays Grand Cru; Michel Gros, Clos des Reas 1er Cru; Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru; Chandon de Briailles, Le Charlemagne Grand Cru; and Domaine Rapet, Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. (To end the meal properly and indulge a bit: Chateau Rieussec, Sauternes Grand Cru Classe ‘86; Domaine Jamet, Cote Rotie ’90, and Domaine Fleury Sonate N. 9 Opus 10.)
Needless to say, I was plenty excited in the days and hours before the tasting.
On this occasion, the pours were quite generous—a pleasant surprise. The wines all smelled wonderful, exhibiting that magical mix of earth and fruit aromas that only Burgundy offers. But when tasted, the wines were too young for me to enjoy. Apart from the Latricieres-Chambertin, they were too tightly wound and not terribly expressive.
I left the event feeling slightly disappointed. Thinking back, I can’t help but wonder if I would have been more open to that lineup of 2010 Burgundies five years ago. As I’ve exposed myself to more truly great wine in recent years, have I become difficult to please? I think the answer is, unfortunately, yes.
Like it or not, the more greatness we are exposed to, the less we want to drink anything that’s not in perfect form.
Sadly, I no longer want to drink many of the everyday wines that once excited me. I’ve lost interest in wine styles (i.e., Amarone, Port) whose virtues I once extolled.
When you start to surround yourself with other wine-obsessed people, you often hear things like, “I’ve only got one liver, so I might as well drink the best stuff.” Increasingly, I’m sympathetic to that point of view, even though it makes me feel like a snob.
For years, I’ve advised friends to avoid buying more than three or four bottles of any one wine. Our tastes in wine are constantly changing. Not many of us love the same types of wines we loved five or ten years ago.
At the same time, the wine world is always changing, sometimes for the worse, yes, but usually it’s for the better. One of the things I like most about wine is that it never ceases to surprise and amaze. Indeed, every so often, wine makes me say, “Wow, I didn’t know wine could do that.”
I recently tasted a still white wine from England that was both refreshing and rich in flavor, and totally enjoyable (Camel Valley, Darnibole Bacchus ‘14). That was a shock to the system. In a blind tasting, I claimed that a Virginia Cabernet Franc (Arterra ‘13) was almost certainly a Chinon or Bourgueil. And if you want a real stunner, try a bottle of Pyramid Valley Semillon from New Zealand.
Just as you are becoming less open-minded about wine, wine finds a way to reopen your mind.
For this paradox, we wine lovers ought to be grateful. Otherwise, we’d all become insufferable snobs, overanalyzing every drop of juice at stuffy 200 euro-plus tastings.
Who else is familiar with the, “Wow, I didn’t know wine could do that” feeling? Please share your experiences below.