On Sunday I had this wine Le Coq Rouge 2006, from Languedoc. It was wine #5 in the line-up, after two whites - a Muscadet and a Prosecco, and two other reds - a brand name Burgundy and a Grand Cru Bordeaux. It was the cheapest wine of them all - $9. It had a simple name, a simple label, and a screwcap, and after its vastly more exalted predecessors, it promised little to impress me. It was there as a novelty, a change of pace for my friends and neighbors to something different, lesser known, and maybe, just maybe a better value? Sniff - funk and barnyard. Sip - oh, what's that? Warm ripe black fruits, earth, and hard acidity - better than I would have expected from the rustic South of France. More like a mix of Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone. Look at the back label - Cab, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache - aha! A guy from Bordeaux made this wine in the South of France - that explains it. Not a simple wine after all - backbone of something perhaps twice the price of this $9 Languedoc, with a kind of hardness that demands respect, yet with the warmth that rounds the edge. I liked it. Others did too. Never mind the barnyardiness. Great deal, I concluded! That was Sunday.
I had another bottle of Le Coq Rouge. On Tuesday, a friend who stopped by provided an excuse to open it. I did, ready to charm him with this $9 value. Pop. Sniff - hm... Sip - not bad, but a bit sour, oxidized? But it's from the same case, and it's a recent (2006) vintage, and it's a screwcap - how could it be ever so different from the first bottle - enough to turn it from good to blah? I grabbed a decanter, swirled and swirled, and drank - my friend and I. We hid the flaws of this wine in the smokiness of a dry sausage, and sweetness of a chocolate cake afterwards, but disappointed I was indeed. How could this be?
And this was not the first time. It'd happened once before - I'd tasted a wine at a tasting and loved it. Later on, I tasted another bottle, and it left me cold and ashamed of my original enthusiasm.
Now it happened the second time and it made me wonder. Is that the same wine? I think YES. But it's me who's different. Different how? I've come to realize that wines drunk in the beginning of an event tend to taste differently than the same wines at the end. Having food ahead or with the wine softens the initial attack. Otherwise, at the outset, when the palate is fresh, the first sip of wine leaves the biggest (and the harshest) impression, often shocking the palate with flavor, alcohol, and acid. After a period of drinking, the palate is adjusted (or desensitized?) and can easily take stronger flavors. Add on top of that the fact that as a party goes on (especially a fun party like mine!) the wine tastes even better. But is it a different wine? No, it's a different ME. So the Tuesday wine must have been truer. But the Sunday one was better, even if it were just an illusion!