Have you ever been to a wine bar or restaurant and decided to try a wine that was available by the glass; a wine you had wanted to experience without committing to a whole bottle? Maybe it was a wine someone recommended. Or, you found a wine you really like–the aroma and taste that was unexpected. Then at a subsequent next trip to your wine shop or Costco you bought the identical vintage produced by the same winery. You get it home, lit the candles, and broke out the same cheese and bread you enjoyed at that memorable tasting, only to be thoroughly disgusted that the aromas and taste of the wine was not what you remembered back at that restaurant or wine bar when that ah-ha moment hit.
About every other week I go to wine country and San Francisco to make sales calls and when possible I visit the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in the late afternoon to get the feel for what’s new in wines. Because they have a large selection of wines by the glass I get to experiment. Recently I tasted (by the way they are not cheap) a Zinfandel with some cheeses and bread and really enjoyed the flavors of the wine. I was so impressed with the Zin, I bought a bottle of the Zin on the spot, along with the cheese and bread and went back to the hotel to continue with the wonderful tastes. Guess what? It was not to be replicated, even within a few hours. What happened?
To try and figure out what happened I contacted my go to Master of Wine friend. I explained in details of the dilemma I faced relative to my experience in the change of taste of a nice wine in a wine bar (a public venue) versus my hotel room. My question was: What happened to the wonderful experience between the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and my hotel? It has probably happened to all of us; a nice wine experience at a place and point in time that is not replicable later in a casual home setting. So I will attempt to coalesce what I learned on the subject into some semblance of an orderly explanation.
It appears the taste and pleasant reaction to a wine is affected in 4 ways: psychological, physiological, properties of the wine itself, and environment or settings. There might be iterations of these or even a whole new category but let’s focus on these because these seem to explain why wine taste different when consumed in a public setting versus at home, even with similar/exact accoutrements (cheese, bread, and grapes, etc.). The following denotes the issues in each of the categories that can impact the taste of wine, in various venues, that is identical in vintage, varietal and winery.
- Attitude plays a critical role in how we approach most events. Back to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant experience. I noticed some people were drinking wine while they waited for their ferry to board for destinations across the Bay; they simply were in no hurry-laid back attitude. Others went through the motions of having a perfunctory glass of wine without concentrating on anything to do with the wine itself. It is probably difficult to replicate a specific wine experience if ones attitude is not consistent, and it rarely may be.
- Stresses obviously impact attitude–stresses of the moment or the ebb and flow of residual stresses of daily work routine. Don’t forget stress impacts us in physiological ways, which impact how we process taste profiles and aromas.
- Wine seems to be a conscious drink best enjoyed with a clear focus. Are the aromas, color and taste approached with positive anticipation or casual appreciation? The mind forms the definition of the experience of that wine-even the exact wine you are trying for the second time.
- We also approach wine with a preconceived expectation. Any variation of that, for whatever reason, we set ourselves up for a disappointment in an attempt to replicate a given wine experience. Seems like nothing is repeatable.
- Relaxation is critical and there are degrees of relaxation. A relaxed state of mind opens the senses of smell and taste and regulates how wine is perceived.
- A Master Sommelier told me about an occasion when a middle age couple came into his restaurant and when seated it wasn’t long before an argument ensued. He said he was concerned because a pleasant meal will dictate how the restaurant is judge by patrons. “At that moment it was imperative that I try to defuse the situation,” he said. Yes, even sommeliers are aware that psyche can direct a person’s attitude about wine and food, even over the course of an hour.
- Supposedly 90% of taste comes from our olfactory sense. If anything changes the way we perceive scents around us, taste will change also.
- Nothing is constant except change. Therefore, the chance of accurately repeating the utopian wine experience is by definition difficult if not impossible because our bodies are in a constant state of change.
- The tongue is going to tell the brain how to process the taste of wine. If the taste buds change from one tasting to the next, differences will be recognized. Too much of a good thing is a recipe for failure. That goes for wine also because the tannins and acids will negatively impact taste if they become burned out. Taste is subjective, so technically taste is always truthful.
- Age of the consumer will also impact how wine is experienced. Although we are focused on why the change in taste, over a matter of as little as 60 minutes with a change in venue, if you wait a year to experience that exact same bottle of wine you could be disappointed based upon age factors.
Properties of the wine
- There may be different batches of the same vintage that will impact taste slightly. The time of day that a specific vintage and varietal was picked and process can impact the wine from bottle to bottle. The fermentation tanks themselves can add some subtle differences and even the oak profile of the barrels between barrel vendors.
- The time and distance one case of wine travels versus another of exact vintage/varietal makes a difference (remember the movie Bottle Shock) or was a different case exposed to heat?
- How long did your special wine breath that produced that great taste you are now trying to reproduce? Remember, you are trying to find that magic in a bottle all over again; hard to do.
- Did the wine temperature change between your great bottle of wine versus the one you bought hoping to find that magic all over again? Temp is a critical element in your attempt to match the flavors, even within same vintage, varietal and winery.
- Now ask yourself if the vintage has aged in the bottle from the first time you experienced the wine.
- There could be some smells from a “corked” bottle of that same vintage and the winery due to cork contamination.
In attempting to duplicate the same great taste of a wine you experienced at a wine bar versus being at home, the environments are different. The environment is recognized as an important element in the wine experience.
- Temperature in the room will impact how you perceive the wine you are drinking.
- Sometimes even subtle difference in the way wine is stored can impact taste, even if the wine is the same vintage and from the same winery.
- Like golfers that repeat a routine/ritual, when trying to achieve the maximum pleasure from a wine, be consistent in a ritual you go through in tasting the wine: letting it breathe, not overly handling the bottle prior to opening, and decanting.
- Where were the wine glasses stored? New cabinets (if wine glasses are stored in a cabinet) may still have a wood smell that will linger on the glasses. It is suggested they be rinsed and dried and let air out to eliminate inherent cabinet smells.
- Lighting of an environment will set a mood that can change the way wine is appreciated. You don’t need a mood ring but just be aware how lighting will even change the look of a nice wine in the glass.
- If you are trying to reproduce a flavor you previously got from a nice wine, the food must be the same. For the sake of this discussion, we are assuming identical cheese and bread.
- We said earlier that smell drives taste so in your environment what aromas are you sensing and are perfume scents present? Some tasting rooms will ask people to leave if perfume is too strong.
- As a penultimate statement: The recommendations of a friend or sommelier will definitely set you up relative to what you will expect in a wine. So don’t let people dictate your standards in taste.
- Never underestimate the impact the company around use when we drink wine. The social ambiance of friends impact us greatly.
- Music. This is a subject that has received some research over the past few years. In a 2011 article in the British Journal of Psychology, it was reported that wine taste better with music. Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University in England said, “The research… considers the possibility that the emotional connotations of music may be able to function as a symbol that influences perception of wines’ taste. The results reported… indicate that independent groups’ ratings of the taste of a wine reflected the emotional attributes of the background music being played while they drank the wine.” The connotations he is referring to are such descriptive attributes as: bold, zingy, light and airy, well developed, etc., being applied to the wine. Mind you, he is talking about people subconsciously interpreting music characteristics and using those characteristics in describing the wine they were drinking, especially if they like the music.
Relative to the two bottles of wine that started this whole discussion; the first one you tried and fell in love with and now the second identical bottle you are expecting to be the same and isn’t. We have discussed a lot of reasons why the second identical bottle is not going to totally give you the same stimulation of taste profiles. But, had you ever given any thought to “music” as a component of a wine experience; in private or in at a wine bar?
It is almost impossible to replicate the taste of wine from one bottle to the next identical bottle, even if the wine is the same vintage, varietal and winery. There are simply too many factors that come into play that can and will impact flavor. The old adage is: you can never recapture exactly what once was.