Most readers will be familiar with the picture of the old hag/beautiful woman. It’s a simple drawing in black and white, but whether you see a young woman or a big nosed old hag depends on how you look at the picture.
When it comes to wine tasting, what you ‘get’ also seems to depend on how you approach the wine, I reckon.
Last night Fiona gave me three wines to taste blind, which she selected at random. It’s a game with a degree of danger associated with it. I have perhaps 250 wines lying accessible, of which some are very smart and not meant to be drunk yet. There are also a lot of inexpensive samples, so the wine she selects comes from a very large pool.
So I am presented with a red wine. I take a sniff, then a slurp. Lots of ripe fruit, but not new world. The ripeness does, however, suggest somewhere sunny. And some oak influence. I plump for Spain. Quality level? This seems quite serious: ripe, a bit oaky, but high end. I give it 90/100.
When I see the bottle, I’m gobsmacked. It’s an inexpensive Rioja with some wire round the bottle, from Aldi at £5.99. If I’d seen the bottle before I tasted, I’d never have gone that high with the score, if I am honest.
The sight of the label would have changed the way I perceived the wine. I’d have been looking for specific things in the wine: knowing it is a Rioja, I’d be searching for vanilla and coconut notes from the American oak, for example. Knowing it is £5.99 in Aldi, I’d be looking for signs of cheapness.
As I come back to taste the wine knowing what it is, it does taste a little different. Where previously I’d given it the benefit of the doubt, and focused on the positive qualities, now I see it a bit differently.
This is the reality of wine tasting. We bring a lot of ourselves to the tasting event: our experience, our preferences, our biases, how much we paid for the wine—all these factors can shape perception. Famous wines benefit from this, and it’s a feedforward cycle that keeps the likes of the first growth Bordeaux Château at the top of the pile. When they are opened, it is usually with great ceremony and sky high expectations. If you’ve just paid hundreds of pounds for a bottle, then you are willing it to succeed.
For the record, the great value Aldi Rioja is called Baron Amarillo, and it’s a reserva from the 2006 vintage. For the price, it’s great. The other two wines tasted blind were Henry Fessy Moulin à Vent 2008 (this wasn’t obviously Beaujolais-like, and showed richness that had me in France, but further south) and Quinta da Covela’s Colheita Seleccionada 2006 white, which is an oak aged Chardonnay Avesso blend from Portugal (this was deep coloured and very rich; I had it pegged as an aged new world Chardonnay – it was actually really nice). Fiona had chosen all three wines because they had orange capsules.