Hoe komt het dat er proeverijen zijn waar niets ‘smaakt’, terwijl de wijnen uit bejubelde oogstjaren komen? Hoe kan het dat de wijn die gisteren uit het wijnrek kwam zich uitstekend presenteerde en vandaag beneden de maat blijft? Daar zijn allerlei oorzaken voor. Die hebben niet alleen met het weer of de maanstand en ‘kalenderdagen’ te maken. Tom Jarvis dook erin voor Wine-Searcher:
“There are numerous other factors which can affect the enjoyment of a single bottle or a larger-scale wine event. As suggested above, weather can have an effect on how a wine is perceived (I am defining climate more as a constant for the purposes of this discussion). Barometric pressure could play a role here via possible effects on tasters' sinus cavities; though evidence regarding this, and how atmospheric pressure might change the physical characteristics of the wine is largely anecdotal.
The temperature of tasting rooms is often a problem in trade tastings, both in the way it affects the drink and the drinker. Increasing temperatures appear to increase the response to sweetness and lower sensitivity to salt and bitter. On the other hand, decreasing temperatures seem to result in increased sensitivity to bitter and less to sour. The serving temperature of wines of all colors and categories, of course, can be critical in terms of aromatic expression and textural aspects. I have attended numerous events in hot rooms with red wines in ice buckets along with whites and rosés, for example.
Before this, the transport of the wines could be key. In an ideal world a seller would probably like their wine to "settle down" for a couple of days in steady, cool temperatures at a tasting venue. Likewise, an individual collector is unlikely to knowingly open a bottle which has just been shipped across continents.
The timing of the opening of a bottle, and the degree to which aeration is needed is another topic to which thousands of words have been devoted. Suffice to say it could be a key factor for the individual consumer or in the logistics surrounding the arrival of stock for a tasting event.
It is also generally understood that the size and shape of a glass can affect the aromatics and taste of a wine. Glassware companies (Riedel in particular) offer wine geeks a dizzying and ever-increasing choice of wine-specific options. This presents a difficult logistical topic for both companies and individuals. While fewer wine trade events use the venerable ISO glass than was the case a couple of decades ago, the options for best multi-purpose wine glass are many. I have actually made extensive use of Spiegelau stemless glasses, which make many aficionados shudder, but offer decreased breakage rates, compact storage, a sense of informality and, above all, a conversation point. Similarly, some individual enthusiasts will own a range of glass types, while others (including many professionals) with less available storage space and/or funds will settle for one or two wine glass shapes plus a sparkling wine glass.
Food choices are occasionally an issue at wine events and for the private drinker. I have attended several events (usually at prestige venues) where the accompanying canapés were lovely, but included high-risk items such as artichokes, horseradish and chilli pepper. But I was already struggling at the event mentioned above before I got near the food tables.
We are not all the same. Wine drinkers have different sensitivities, sensory thresholds, different numbers of taste buds, and so on. Moreover, these characteristics can change as we age – apparently taste buds degenerate from one's mid-forties, which is somewhat concerning for me.
Plenty has been written on how the food we eat – especially spicy meals – can have a large effect on our wine tasting experience. Conversely hunger makes people more sensitive to sweetness and saltiness. Trade wine tastings are often held before lunch hoping for sharper palates, and MW tastings are scheduled for the morning sessions of exam week.
Smokers' taste buds are in direct contact with chemical compounds which reduce ability to register salt, sweet, sour and bitter, while obesity – though this is particularly associated with children and adolescents – may reduce perception of sweetness, bitterness and saltiness. Pregnancy is definitely not a factor for me, but other hormonal issues might be.
Of course, colds can affect sense of smell while allergies and other illnesses obstruct airways. Disease can play a role in numerous ways; soberingly there are cases on record where lung cancer sufferers early symptoms included a change or reduction in their wine tasting abilities.
Adaptation is a consideration which rather combines the personal with external factors. This refers to the order in which you taste things, and the time that you wait between tastes. This probably includes those unfortunate times when you smarten up for a wine tasting dinner and realise just too late that brushing your teeth with toothpaste was not such a great idea.
Certainly olfactory receptors need time to recover after encountering pungent aromas. When tasting all day at a large trade event, I did not have the powers of concentration to progressively work style-by-style through the room. Instead my tactical tasting order (with water and dry cracker pauses between each) tended to be something like: lighter dry whites; light reds and rosés; oaked and floral whites; medium-bodied and heavier reds; sweeter wines, lunch break, repeat process, then finish with fortified wines and spirits.
Psychological factors can also come into play. Auto suggestion is a tough one to resist – it can be hard to evaluate a wine while listening to others' proclamations about silky tannins and aromas of crushed raspberries. I tended to taste alone, then rope in others for second opinions if needed.
And we all have our biases to deal with. Being the sneaky type, I have often canvassed opinion on Sauvignon Blanc before serving an example with some oak component, which everyone declares to be a great Chardonnay. The longer I work in the trade, the more I know that my preconceptions will be challenged. Except about Gewurztraminer; that's definitely the Devil's Grape.