Wine Buyer’s Remorse

19 Jun

When you shop for, find, buy and finally open that new wine for the first time, you are expecting and emotionally prepared for a distinct reaction. You go in perhaps hopeful, excited, perhaps even a little giddy. What do you do when your first taste is  disappointing? Obviously if you buy a wine that’s corked (aka tained, spoiled, showing the presence of trichloroanisonle or TCA) you immediately regret it.

But sometimes wine is perfectly not corked, it’s just..mediocre. What can you say when the wine is ‘meh’? Several times in my life I’ve regretted making a purchase. We’re thrilled when a cheap bottle tastes like something much more expensive. But what about when you drop hard earned coin on a supposedly great bottle that’s only OK? I don’t know about you, but it makes me sad!

I recently opened a bottle that was an award-winner, highly rated. My experience was a delicate,  lightly floral nose, and boring palate- watery, some red fruit, acid and tannin but NOT a flavor I wanted to repeat. It is corked or just mediocre?

I asked myself these questions:

1) Proper tasting approach: Did I taste this properly? (Is my palate clean? Am I using neutral judgement?) Maybe it requires more air? A: My palate wasn’t clean, I’d been noshing and drinking an ounce of a wonderfully structured, classic red earlier. I decide to give it air, cleanse my palate and taste it at least two more tastes.

2) Storage: Is this a wine designed to be caved for age and be enjoyed in ten years, or is it meant to be drunk young? Am I drinking this too early, or too late in the life of the vintage? A: It’s an ’07 that should be approachable now.

4) Complementary tasting? Did I pair this with something inappropriate? A: Yes, I had strong flavors on my palate earlier. My gut is the wine is demonstrating TCA or the balance is off- I don’t expect an award-winning wine to taste like this, but I have to try again with a clean palate and a neutral choice (like a water cracker) to see if the reaction is more my fault.

5) Possible Audience:  If its not MY cup of tea, who WOULD like this? A: while the wine might be tainted, it could also be that this wine is just not something that I like. It might pair with very different approach, but I decide to pass on this and re-consider it later.

6) Sales & Marketing: What did they do right in making and marketing this wine? A: The label is classic, attractive Chateau type. Award was clearly displayed on each bottle. Wine was displayed prominently with other solid bordeaux. Good price. The seller knew I’d buy this wine, it’s at a high value price point if I like it.

So after going through this mental process while swirling the wine in the glass to aerate it further, eating a water cracker and drinking a half glass of water, my palate feels cleaner and more open. I smell and taste a second time. Mediocre. Doesn’t taste vinegary, but doesn’t taste like something I want to drink. I deem my palate past neutrality and decide to let the bottle sit and taste again tomorrow. When approaching cleanly, I should know quickly if its tainted or just a mediocre bottle.

Sometimes it’s obvious when you find a corked bottle. Sometimes, like last night, you find a minor mystery.  More often than a corked bottle is when I’ve found something I’m excited about – maybe a rare find or a well-rated wine – and I’m clearly hoping for an astounding experience. But my initial response is “so so.”

So-so, my friends, is a total and complete disappointment.

When I taste a so-so wine, I taste it again, to double check myself. Then I let it rest a bit and see if a little more exposure to air will improve it.

Then I’ll try it with a cracker, a gentle cheese, a robust cheese, and maybe some chocolate. If the wine may improve with food, these are some of the best choices. It’s also easier to keep these foods around your home, instead of fois gras, mushroom terrine, cornichon/raclette cheese/baguette, and chocolate truffles (each of which might pair wonderfully with wines high in acidity, in tannin, in sugar, etc.) Sometimes you’ll find the wine has opened up, or pairs and compliments one of these foods amazingly well.

But other times, you’ll realize that regardless of price or rating, the wine just isn’t what you like.

It’s important to realize at this point, that it’s OK. It’s actually good, because you’re learning what you like and don’t like in wine.

Don’t forget, every season is a new bunch of wines, every season is a new season to live, learn, try and taste.

So…have you experienced my misery? Bringing home a bottle of something you’re really excited about, just to taste it and think … “what’s the fuss about?” I’d love to hear about it!

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