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Sometimes it’s just too hot to taste wine


It finally got hot yesterday in Oakland, one of the few times this unusually cold summer the temperature hit 90, so I decided not to taste. I work at home, and I don’t have an air conditioner–practically nobody does in the Bay Area, because you only need it a couple times a year. So as a result my house was pretty toasty, and so was I–not the ideal physical conditions to taste.

I don’t always feel like tasting, but I do it because it’s my job. No matter what your job–President of the United States or janitor–there are days you don’t feel like working but you do anyway because it’s, well, your job. When I don’t feel like tasting, and I have no legitimate excuse not to, I simply take a deep breath and forge ahead and, alcohol being alcohol (even when you’re spitting), it’s not long before my mood changes and I get into the gestalt of tasting. It’s a very nice gestalt to be in.

But not yesterday. Had I had cold white wines and sparkling wines, I might have, but I didn’t. For some reason, I get about 8 times as many reds as whites, and always have. I don’t understand why. Maybe one of my smart readers can explain. As for sparkling wines, they came in a rush during July, August and early September, as usual. Wineries want their bubbly reviews in the bag by November (they know it takes a couple months for print periodicals to get them published), because they need those scores for the holidays. So, alas, sparkling wine season is over. That left me with a bunch of Cabernets, Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs–not exactly the wines you want to taste when your room temperature is somewhere in the 80s.

I’ve alluded before to how your reaction to a wine depends on many different things. There’s a pretension out there, on the part of some whose income is connected with tasting, that a professional critic can turn himself into a tasting machine. A machine, like your computer, doesn’t care if it’s cold or hot. A computer doesn’t tire, or get bored, or have something better to do on a Saturday afternoon than taste wine. A computer doesn’t feel anything. It’s strictly an input-output equation. However, that’s not how a real human being behaves. I am a real, flesh and blood human being. I have to make judgments about when I’m fit to taste, and when I’m not. And yesterday, I wasn’t.

Today, I am. I drive up later this morning to a vertical tasting at Pride Mountain Vineyards–25 years of their wines, I believe. It’s not that common, even for someone like me, to get invited to something this spectacular. I’ll be interested in how the wines are developing, of course, but I’ll also try to understand more about how wines age in the first place. Extrapolating from a tasting, like Pride’s, whose best wines have a Napa-Sonoma appellation, to a tasting of, say, older Opus Ones is not a straight line. But there are generalities that can be made, inferences that can be drawn. In my reviews, I’ll sometimes give recommendations of how long to hold a wine, but the fact is that I’m never entirely comfortable doing so. These prognostications are educated guesses, at best, and I always feel like adding, “But if the wine is dead is 2017, don’t sue me.” I’ve had more dead Cabernets that were supposed to age, than Cabernets that actually did make it to ten years or longer. The result is that over the years I’ve lowered my expectations of how long to hold a Cab. But this is complicated stuff, considering bottle variation, shipping, cellar conditions, etc. Anyway, I’ll be writing about the Pride tasting at Wine Enthusiast’s website in the next few weeks.

  1. Having lived for 15 years in Arizona, with the last few years in the wine biz, it was quite the lesson in paying attention to how my palate was “in shape” for tasting (or not) on a given day. Wines show better on some days rather than others, and I found myself in that same situation — some days were better than others in how my palate perceived flavors and was able to discern finer distinctions in aromas.

    Heat is a big part of that equation, especially when tasting full-bodied reds, as is humidity and the overall effect of atmospheric pressure, as well. When Bacchus conspired against having a good tasting day (akin to the concept of “root days” in BioD?), I concentrated on making phone calls and legwork that didn’t involve tasting with accounts. Nothing can ruin an opportunity faster than showing an account a wine that isn’t at its best that day.

  2. “It takes a few cold beers to make a great vintage” Anonymous

  3. Get a small window mounted ac unit. Et voila!

    Just don’t sit in your car with the ac running and taste some one might get an improper idea.

  4. John Roberts says:

    I often think of Autumn as wine-drinking season as temperature is a big part of that. Good wines are great when it feels like a barrel room outside! I completely agree that context plays a role, and this is a good example of that.

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