I thought there was an interesting comment by John Wilson in the Irish Times last Saurday, when he was talking about a Rioja that tasted thin and weedy in tasting, but was delicious with dinner. Is it possible for wines to taste and drink differently?
When we do tastings in the shop, as we do every weekend, it is noticeable that a fruity, soft merlot or shiraz from the Australia or Chile always gets a better reaction than a Bordeaux or a Chianti, both of which can be a bit dry and tannic when tasted on their own. If it is 12 noon on a Saturday afternoon and you are grappling with a hangover, it can be even tougher. and yet, these wines are often better wines and, presented in a different context - preferably over dinner - most people would probably prefer them.
You can draw your own conclusions about the implications of this phenomenon in terms of wine shows, critics ratings and the unsurprising Parkerisation of the wine world.
In terms of buying wine, this is often done in the unreal world of the wine fair, such as Vinexpo, VinItaly or any of the other ones around the world. However, when making a decision about whether or not to import a wine, we usually try to introduce a bit of rigour to the process by requesting samples to be sent to us back in Ireland, where we taste them blind against their peers. Then we rate them, but also reveal them and drink them over dinner. It is a combination of the blind tasting and the performance of the wine over dinner which informs our decision. If it performs well in the blind tasting AND is one of the first bottles to empty, then we know we are on to something.
So, I think tasting and drinking are two connected, but separate things. Drinking is more informative and better fun. It also is a lot more time-consuming. Sometimes, you have to taste and try to make an informed judgement about how the wine will drink with a meal, which is the primary purpose of wine...
I'm sure that all our esteemed wine critics can make this distinction and this judgement and are rarely seduced by showy, blockbuster fruit-driven monsters with new oak, heavy bottles?!
What do you think?