The Wine Review: Is it All Just Smoke and Mirrors?

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Have you ever visited a restaurant for a romantic dinner where everything turns out to be perfect?  Your meal is expertly prepared, the wine pairing is flawless and the waitstaff is impeccably attentive. The music, ideal, seems to have been especially chosen for you that evening.  You rave about the restaurant to your friends.  Then you return for another meal, and it just isn’t the same.  The staff is a bit busy, the atmosphere a bit rushed. The food is still good and the wine still pleasant to the palate. But the gastronomical utopias you remembered just isn’t there.

A few nights ago I was at a dinner commemorating my brother’s year of recovery since his heart attack. It should have been a joyous occasion, but it was a bit weird for me. Why?  Because I was sitting across from my brother’s ex-wife and his new girlfriend.  It was extremely uncomfortable.  My former sister-in-law is the mother of my niece and she’s family. She has been for years. But she and my brother have parted ways as a couple, and each have moved on as far as their relationship is concerned. When I first arrived the word was that the girlfriend had canceled. Then while I was comfortably chatting with my niece’s mother, in waltzes the new girlfriend with her child in tow. And they sat across from me as well, while my brother chatted with folks on the other end of the table as well as said child of the girlfriend.

I had ordered a glass of Chianti to pair with my spaghetti and meatballs.  And it was a Chianti I’d had enjoyed before.  But this time I didn’t.  Luckily the kids had to be in early, so the eating and drinking did not continue into the night. When I arrived home, Joe allowed me to vent about the weirdness of the dinner.  Then we decided to open a bottle of wine we had received for review.

Joe raved about the wine; a Meritage from Sonoma County.  To me it was so-so.  In fact none of the subtleties Joe noticed were there for me.  So I got to thinking — could it be that my difficult evening was affecting my ability to appreciate the wine?

And is it just me, or does how you feel at the time affect your perception of food and wine?

Love in the Tasting Room

People sometimes complain that they’ve enjoyed a wine tremendously at a tasting room, only to be disappointed when they return home with their case and the wine just isn’t the same.  We’ve even shared a laugh with some other wine bloggers over the great sales techniques of a particular California winery.

This winery employs great looking people in a wonderfully regal venue.  They treat every visitor as if he or she is about to purchase an entire barrel of their wine.  And then one guy has a cool little trick of laying the wine glass on its side and rolling it back and forth under his palm  to “swirl” and aerate; showing the wine’s “legs” — all without spilling a drop.  This seems to especially appeal to women, who then convince their significant other to sign up for the most expensive level in the winery’s  club.  After two or three shipments the more frugal wine drinker has “lost that lovin’ feelin’.”  Not because the wine isn’t good; but because it was priced a little high for the quality and the wine lover’s budget.  Or as my late father would have said of the winery, “Boy, they’re really proud of that stuff aren’t they!”

It’s All in Her Mind

Many have written about the affect of hormones on a woman’s perception of food and wine.  The folks about at redwinebuzz.com have a great post that deals with this subject.

We have all heard the wisecracks about women being slaves to their hormonal cycle, however I cannot deny that there is a shift in my perception and enjoyment of wine depending on which hormone is surging through my body. Women’s estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall throughout the month. When estrogen is on the rise (usually first half of the menstrual cycle), women tend to feel both better physically and emotionally. Around the time of ovulation, a woman’s senses of taste, touch and smell are the most acute and sensitive. When progesterone is on the rise (usually the second half of the menstrual cycle), women tend to have more negative feelings such as irritability and low self-esteem. Progesterone is the hormone responsible for maintaining the lining of the uterus and pregnancy (should it occur). Any woman can attest to the effects of this cycle of fluctuating hormones, and gentlemen: you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. While it may not be a comfortable assertion to make, women’s biology is different from men’s. At the cellular level of every tissue and organ in our bodies, we are built to respond to our cycling hormones. – Wine, Women and… Hormones (March 06, 2008)

But I’d argue this isn’t just a “woman thing.”

It’s a Man’s World, Too

I know of a particular gentleman who is really, really into football. The win or loss of his team can affect the rest of his day — sometimes even his week. In his hometown there is an especially bitter rivalry between two teams:  one at the north end of the freeway and the other just 30 miles south. If said southern team put a whippin’ on the northern, the gentleman was not fit to live with. That is, most of the time.

The gentleman was suffering a particularly miserable year that included the end of a long relationship. He had recently met someone, albeit virtually, that had piqued his interest. But he, now jaded and cynical, held no naive romantic notions. The evening before “The Big Game” he met the woman for the first time, face-to-face, and sparks flew — the kind of sparks that “make an old man wish for younger days,” as the song says.*  The next day his team lost its bitter rivalry on the field — but the man didn’t care, because his emotions were on high from the night before.  And I would venture to guess that even Mad Dog paired with Vienna Sausages would have been delightful that day.

Does this mean we’re all victims of our emotions?  Does it mean that wine and food critics are completely full of it and you shouldn’t trust anything we say?  Because I’ll guarantee if the restaurant or wine bar knows there is a critic in the house — the critic will be fawned over like the Jonas Brothers in a room full of 14-year old girls.  I’ll admit we are quite often full-of-it but there is something more to consider.

Just because something tastes fabulous the first time you try it doesn’t always mean it’s nectar to the gods.  Conversely just because you don’t like something the first time you try it doesn’t mean it’s bad or not worth the price. Don’t write off something just because it doesn’t meet your expectations the first time.  Try it again, under different circumstances.  Because what you don’t like today, may just become a favorite tomorrow.

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

*Rob Zombie’s version of The Commodores’ Brick House is my favorite!

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • http://www.triovintners.com/ Denise Slattery

    Great perspective – and all good points for why wine can sometimes taste different depending on circumstances and surroundings. It's not a perfect science with data points that can be charted and measured. But I agree that if you are willing to try and try again you'll get the complete picture. That's asking a lot of consumers though because they are trained to walk away and not return if there's anything whatsoever not to their liking. Most people do not have the money, time or patience.

    • http://twitter.com/WineWonkette Amy Corron Power

      Very good point about consumer behavior.

      I think it even goes back to our childhood. We try something and our little kid palates say “yuck” and it might take years or even never that we'll try it again (I'm trying to get over that, especially with things like liver pate).

      And for the consumer if something is presented in a new way many people are willing to give it another chance. But I think it's up to the company or winery to get the consumer to rethink his first taste.

  • honeyb

    I totally agree with this! I believe that your mood does effect your food and any other situation!

    • http://twitter.com/WineWonkette Amy Corron Power

      Thanks for commenting, and reading our blog!

  • http://whywineblog.com/ Joeshico

    Wow, I always thought it was just me. I often bring home wines tasted at a winery only to find out that it's not what I tasted there. Alway's believed it was maybe the best of two or three that I tasted, when in fact, their was no best, they were all bad.
    I also found that if I have a glass or two of a really good or favorite wine and then open a bottle of wine that is not as good, but one that may be a favorite, it somehow looses it's appeal.

    • http://twitter.com/WineWonkette Amy Corron Power

      I think sometimes it actually might be a bad bottle. Or we need to give the wine time to open up and breathe too. Especially if it's tasting room vs. home. Because we've had a number of really GREAT wines in tasting rooms that taste just as good at home as they do there. But there have been other times when we decided to buy an entire case, just based on one taste — and it turned out we should have tasted several times before making such a big commitment!

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