Perception: An Individual’s Reality

How many times have you had a wine one place, like a winery, a restaurant or a scenic location, then opened another of the same bottle later only to discover it being not quite as spectacular? I have seen this question pop up in Wine Spectator, online forums and amongst fellow wine lovers many times. Isn?t it puzzling how setting and company for which the wine is being enjoyed with can totally alter the experience?

The most common example of this happening is when you are on location, at a winery. This is where your mental associations push your senses into overload. There you are, in the thick of it all, talking about it, seeing how and where it is made and imbibing of course. Then you meet the winemaker or the owner and you swear that this is the best wine that you tasted all day. This is after you?ve already been to six other wineries and tasted every wine they made too! However you didn?t meet the head honchos over there and they didn?t have marble floors or Persian tapestries suspended from the walls either. Are you discerning enough to realize the fa?ade that is blinding you?

This can only bring me to ponder barrel sample ratings from the publications monarchy we know as Wine Spectator. First off, a barrel tasting is when wine is sampled between 6-12 months after being in oak barrels and about another 6-12 months before bottling. The wine is still ?defining? itself, collectively synchronizing all of its subtleties, flavors and aromas. When the reviewers go in to analyze and rate the newest vintage they give an estimated score based upon the sample. Reviewers do not perform these tastings blind and they also have preconceived notions about the overall regional quality of the vintage.

It is these barrel sample ratings that wine brokers, suppliers and distributors use to base their initial prices on. A mediocre wine from a great vintage may get a boost into a higher ratings bracket (Usually the ratings are established in a range, ex. 85-88). Likewise a great wine may get placed in a lower point range in a poor vintage. This placement obviously reflects the quality of the wine, but what I?m questioning is?..

How much do factors such as cleanliness of the cellar, personality of the winemaker and hospitability of the staff contribute to the end result?

I realize we are talking about highly trained professional analysts here but for the novice wine drinker these are factors that would and do affect judgment considerably.

Experiment this anomaly for yourself. Enjoy one of your favorite bottles of red wine on a plane while you fly. I?ve read that some airlines actually allow you to bring your own wine on the flight now. Check with your carrier prior to doing this as you might ruffle some feathers. Wines DO taste differently at 35,000 ft. You could also try to drink one of your better bottles outside on a hotter or more humid day/night. The wine will NOT drink like it has in the past. What I?ve deduced from experiences like these and others where the wine was not as good the second time around is simple.

We are creatures whose complex perceptive skills can be influenced, masked & fooled by external stimuli. The best way to duplicate the way you experienced a wine is to replicate the experience in which it was enjoyed the first time around. Besides, it?s highly natural for our first experience of anything to be the most rewarding. If you want to avoid this normal digression you could try to always enjoy good wine in a very non-exciting environment. That way every time you have good company or good food to pair with it it will enhance the experience. Sharing a personal revelation about a wine tasting experience is only enhanced by the company of a fellow wine enthusiast.


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