Why is it that we so much enjoyed that cheap bottle of wine by the side of the road on that European escapade, munching on the local cheese or cold cuts with some fresh bread?
Back home, we then search high and low for that same cheap bottle and when found, gather a few friends, making it a big deal, crack that bottle but alas!, the wine tastes insipid, flat with no fruit and our friends just look at us wondering what has happened to our taste buds!
It has happened to me and I am sure to some of you, but why?
In my view, wine appreciation is so subjective: enjoying a glass with good friends, a good meal or for a wonderful occasion will enhance its taste ten fold, but we must also take in consideration the provenance of the wine, an inexpensive wine will not be treated with the care that grand crus of Bordeaux or Burgundy will receive: instead of the refrigerated and insulated containers flown across the oceans, cheap wines will come via long boat rides across the seas, subject to days of shaking and rolling in temperatures constantly changing from the very hot to the very cold, on top of deck or all the way down in the hull.
So that bottle of Sancerre that was so delicious with these oysters in Brittany or that bottle of Chianti so rich with a slab of parmesan in Tuscany may now taste like rotgut!
You see wine is a living, fragile thing that doesn’t like daylight, which oxidizes it too fast or much shaking, which bruises it or drastic changes in temperature, which cooks it. You wouldn’t like to be treated that way either!
To take it a step further here is a personal anecdote. I won’t soon forget this great experience: during a trip in Burgundy with some friends, in the cool, dank cellar of Mme Gros in Vosne-Romanee, in a dark corner, her reaching under layers of black soot, cobwebby looking stuff for a bottle of 1959 Clos de Reas with no label, just the chalk markings made by her dad at bottling time, the wine having never been moved from that cellar since its birth, never seen daylight or any change of temperature; she easily popped a pristine cork, poured it gently for all of us and wow!, the taste was so fresh, the color so bright and the aromas so rich that it was unbelievable to us that the wine was that old, yet it was!
Mme Gros, that day, gave us another bottle from the same batch and same spot to take back home, we then opened it for the “Lunch Bunch” Xmas party later that year and to our great disappointment, the quality of the wine wasn’t even remotely close to that of its sister bottle in the cellar, 3 months before: it was dried out and shallow on the palate, even its color wasn’t as deep and brilliant…
When I shared that experience with Mme Gros, she promptly reply that it was not a unique occurrence and that it was unfortunately rather typical especially since I had not allowed the wine a long enough period of time to rest after the travel!.. Although I had carried that bottle back to the States with care, the shaking during transport had bruised the fragile old liquid, changing its molecular structure and therefore changing its taste. She then recommended for an old (and worthwhile) wine that has travel quite a distance to let the bottle rest for a period of about a year in order for the wine it to stabilize again and recover a lot of its prior quality and substance, (but never really regaining quite all of it)…
So now you know why some of the tastes can be so different, there is also a popular saying in the wine trade: there no great wines, only great bottles of wine, as bottle variation can be so pronounced.
Voila, those are my story and, remember: “de gustibus non est disputendum”.