Last night I had a wake-up call. Two friends came to the house, and after we were done with dinner with some nice auslese Riesling, it was almost midnight, and we were not in the mood or presence of mind to enjoy another fancy bottle of anything, so an opportunity to sip on something unrefined and unsophisticated presented itself.
In the past couple of years, I'd had a good fortune of being surrounded by friends who pride themselves on drinking good wine. I'd also been conducting tastings at Vineyard Gate for a while now. As we go through the wines, I stay truthful to my own palate. If something is not to my liking, I hold no punches against the wine even if it means discouraging the customer from buying it. Luckily, time and time again, tasting after tasting at Vineyard Gate, I have been sounding like a broken record - "none of the wines we've tasted today seem not-good to me." Lately, I've also been checking on various online forums where people preach their unconditional love for wine, *any* wine. According to some, wine can do no wrong.
I've gotten so used to drinking decent wine, that I forgot how bad it can be. After last night affair in my kitchen, my appreciation of Vineyard Gate and my wine friends is renewed, as I no longer continue to take wine in my life for granted!
We were done with desserts, and it felt like something on the order of an easy-drinking California Chardonnay may finally be appropriate to sip by itself. So down I went to my cellar with an eye toward an expendable wine. I'd had a number of random bottles sitting around from various gifts I'd gotten from neighbors over the last year, something that I would probably never buy myself. So I pulled out a bottle of 2001 Chalone Chardonnay, thinking it might have some nice age on it... The first whiff of the wine proved deadly - sherry nose didn't even require me to taste. My braver friends took sips, and the contorted expressions on their faces begged no further elaboration. ~$28. Oxidized. Gone! I went back to the cellar and grabbed another bottle from an anonymous guest - Les Arpents Chenin Blanc 2007, expecting some light sweetness and decent flavor from this Loire valley white. The nose was non-expressive, and the taste - green, lean, sour. The wine was a total non-event. But at least it was not spoiled. I guessed a $6 wine from Trader Joe's. But googling it revealed a $16-20 price tag! Gone! So down I went to the cellar again, and picked up another bottle that I'd never buy myself - Wolf Blass South Australia Chardonnay 2004. With bland nose right off the bat, this wine proceeded to unimpress with a pure expression of oak chip juice with hints of diluted pear - a horrific potion! ~$15-20. The label on the back of the bottle said: "displays classic peach and melon characters, integrated oak flavors and a creamy soft texture". Wow, talk about marketing spin - Gone! Now that I was dully provoked, I vowed to keep going through this cellar cleansing until a decent wine was finally identified. Next I grabbed a 2003 Napa Ridge Coastal Vines Shiraz from Lodi, a gift from yet another anonymous source. The half-corked nose foreboded ominously for this ghastly red, which my friends all suggested tasted more like a bad Pinot. $10. To the drain! Now at 0 for 4, the wall of shame kept expanding and my determination never to accept any wine from unproven individuals grew stronger. Having lost all hope, I fetched a Martin Ray Cabernet Sauvigon Saratoga Cuvee 2000, which finally rescued us from the jaws of wine hell (only to reveal corkiness the day after).
And with that, my friends, I conclude this somber tale of cellar cleansing which serves us a reminder - do not take your good wine for granted, there is a lot of bad bad bad wine out there. Buyer beware!