We were staying at Nash’s airBnB in Rubion, a small village in the South of France. (Actually our hostess was Corrine, Nash was her dog that we fell in love with). At the local market we bought wine for about 3 Euros, then had a picnic while sitting on a bench in front of an old chateau. It was wonderful -local cheese, bread, and fruit – with the bottle in a small stream to keep it cool.
The wine for the picnic-in-the-room with this view was from a tiny grocery store in Moustier St Marie, it was from the Cote de Rhone and was also 3 Euros, about $4.50 in US dollars. I cannot think of many glasses of wine that I have enjoyed more, at any price.
I am sure that Wine Spectator never rated either of these two, and have no idea how they would rate, nor do I care. What mattered is that they were good wine.
So what does makes a good wine? A good wine is one that brings joy, gladdens the heart, and often is shared with friends.
But why is any particular bottle better than another?
Tastebuds are strongly influenced by the nose, thus a wine that does a bit of aromatherapy on us before we even taste it is already winning us over. I may not be able to describe every nuance of fruit, tobacco, figs and such, but I know when a wine entices me as it whispers “this is going to be good.”
Of course the color of the wine, and even the bottle and the label might hint that I will like what I am about to taste. Strong tannins, that puckering sensation you get just below your ears, is not a big plus for me; a bit softer works better. And “food pairings” are way overdone.
Price is no guarantee of taste, yet the Shaw wine at Trader Joe’s is almost undrinkable for my palate. I have enjoyed $100 bottles of wine for sure, yet have had $60 bottles that were not that amazing.
The factors that contribute most to a wines enjoyment scale are not what are printed in the tasting notes or on the label. The three most important components to a great wine experience are
Wine has a history.
The story of where the grapes were grown, the winery, and the wine maker may influence the experience more than the terroir; they trigger fond memories that enhance the taste of the wine.
Quivira is a wonderful wine, made better by the vineyard, the winery and the tasting room in Sonoma. We went on a tour, saw the vineyards, tasted grapes right off the vines, saw the famous fig tree, the pigs, the chickens and the gardens, while sipping wine along the way. Every time I open a bottle from Quivira it takes me back to that wonderful day; the wine just tastes better because of the history we have with Quivira.
Then there is Torii Mor in Oregon, wonderful Pinot Noir, made all the better by memories of warm summer days on their deck overlooking the hills of the Dundee wine region. History truly does enhance the flavor of the wine.
I will always be partial to Cote de Rhone wines in general simply because of my times in Provence. Spanish Cava triggers memories of hidden plazas in Barcelona.
The Ambiance makes a difference
Sitting on our deck on a warm summer day, snacking on wine and cheese makes any wine taste better. I remember some rather plain wines that were wonderful because we drank them with a picnic on the train from Melbourne to Sydney, as I saw my first kangaroos on the hillside, it was my 20th trip to Australia so I was overdue. I don’t remember the name of the wine, but I do remember that wine was part of the experience.
Glasses are part of the ambience. It does not really make all that much difference to me if I drink my reds from huge glasses, my rose from tulip shaped glasses, or Sauvignon Blanc from a smaller white wine glass. But I do love the Italian style glass I bought at the Coppola winery in Napa.
Food adds to the taste, but again too many folks get crazy on the perfect pairing. Visit various web sites looking up the right wine for a certain food and you will quickly discover that there is no consensus on the “right” wine; the experts all have their own opinion. My guideline is if it tastes good it is paired properly. If you really are enjoying that Pinot Noir with the delicate fish, then go for it. And if white wine sounds good with a steak, then you have the perfect wine.
Food adds to the ambience, not because it is meticulously matched, but because you enjoy it. There is something about cheese, bread and wine or a bit of salami, a piece of fruit, a cracker. When you pour the glass, grab a snack and the wine will thank you for it.
Wine is best when you have companions.
Who you drink your wine with is as important as anything to make a bottle of wine a good one. The best wines I have had are those I have had with Tricia. We have had some good wines with friends and enjoyable conversation.
A good wine may be an 80 instead of a 95 on the Wine Spectator list, but if it stands out, puts a smile in your heart, brings you closer together with friends, adds to the enjoyment of the place then it is a good wine.