Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where You Taste

There’s no question that environment affects your experience of a wine. Tasting a particular champagne at home, in a restaurant or in a discothèque is likely to produce quite different results. (Not that I know so much about discothèques.) At the same time, tasting can sometimes be an unpredictable thing.

This afternoon I was tasting with François Domi, the chef de cave of Billecart-Salmon, who is an exceptionally intelligent and sensitive taster. We were tasting through the current range, and I had an extremely intriguing experience with the Brut Rosé. The bottle that we were tasting was perfectly correct, but while we were both smelling it, Domi asked me if I was satisfied with the nose. I said that it was fine, but as he knows the wine infinitely better than I do (he did make it, after all), I chose to defer to his opinion. He took me outside to the little courtyard in front of the house, and we smelled it again. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so profound a difference in the way a wine smells from one environment to another: in the tasting room, which is a perfectly neutral and controlled “tasting” environment, the wine smelled correspondingly neutral. Outside, however, the wine gained a smoky complexity, and the fruit was much more vinous and pungent, with intense aromas of blueberry and strawberry. I’m quite accustomed to wines smelling different in different contexts, but this was surprising to me nevertheless, especially as conventional wisdom dictates that outside is a terrible place to taste wine. The nose was so much more expressive and fragrant when we were standing outside that it seemed like a completely different champagne. As soon as we returned inside I smelled the wine again, and it was like a switch had been turned off: the nose returned again to a relatively neutral, pleasant but innocuous state.

Honestly, there is no perfect tasting environment. Cellars are full of cellar smells, outside environments are often disastrous due to the caprice of nature, and as my experience today demonstrates, neutral environments are often simply too neutral. Restaurants are generally too full of external odors, and anyway, I’m usually more focused on my dining companion than on my wine (indicating that my priorities are indeed in the right place). Perhaps the very best tasting environment is at one’s own home, simply because it’s the place that one is most accustomed to, and there is always a consistency in stemware as well. But it just goes to show once again that wine is a far more elusive creature than we generally give it credit for, and that the variables involved in tasting are myriad and complex.

7 comments:

Brooklynguy said...

thoughtful and interesting stuff, as always.

Anonymous said...

This Blog is just awesome. Thanks for keeping up the good work.

Very true that conditions and enviroment can have a great impact on how the wine taste. did you taste the 99´s and what was your impression ?

Neil

Montalcino Report said...

This is a good analysis, thanks. And I definitely agree with it. I would add the pleasures of tasting a wine in its own environment vs having it at home.. And it is so impressive that it's even better with its own environment's typical food. By the way, I always have a case of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé in my cellar.. I would love to know your tasting notes.
Keep the good work!

Anonymous said...

I never feel like I can confidently evaluate a Champagne in a restaurant. If l like one, I have to acquire some, and try it at home with my wife. It's remarkable how different the impressions can be. Thank you for bringing it up, Peter. Much appreciated.

Dr. Vino said...

Absolutely, context matters! And don't forget to add the people you're with! And the season!

Cynthia said...

An interesting and excellent
piece of information.

Thomas said...

Hi Peter,

Just saw this blog – great stuff.

It’s interesting what you say. This summer I sipped the 2002 Vilmart Grand Cellier Rubis on the terrace and it was stunning. I went inside my house with my glass to prepare some food and noticed the wine loose some of its intensive strawberry flavours.

I would say that under normal circumstances it’s better to taste wine inside, but maybe Champagne it’s different? Oh well – it’s 10 degrees outside here in Denmark now, so I will have to wait at least 6 months to get the chance again ;-)

Keep posting great Champagne stories.

Best from,

/Thomas