Understanding the factors influencing the taste of wine
When a pricey bottle of viño hardly tastes as good as you expect it to, fingers point at a few usual suspects. Is your wine despondent from being shacked up in an uncomfortable abode? Might the environment where you are guzzling it be killing its vibe? The culprit in many cases, unfortunately, is usually the imbiber in the mirror. Andre Frois turns to Edwin Soon, wine writer and educator, for enlightenment on the finer details of caring for the fruit of the vine.
Does travelling affect the quality of a wine? Some connoisseurs reckon that travelling can rough it up.
Travelling mainly affects old wines. A old bottle of Burgundy or Bordeaux can taste very different after a long or rough journey. Wines can also get "jetlagged" if they are subjected to movement or changes in temperature while en route to their final destination.
Is there a way to save a wine that has experienced a bumpy journey?
Let the wine rest for three to six months. This allows the sediments — which have been shaken up during the journey — in the wine to settle. Old wines are more vulnerable to being shaken up as new wines tend not to have sediments present. Given the time to rest, the sediments in the wine would settle to the point where the cloudy suspension becomes clear. At this point, the wine should taste like its former self again.
Can the environment affect a wine? Can we say that humid countries like Singapore would make a wine taste less robust?
Yes. The wine chosen to be served in airplanes, for example, is stronger in flavour, because cabin pressure tends to numb the senses. Likewise, this is the reason why in-flight meals are seasoned with more salt. Many environmental factors — including mood, temperature, and humidity — have the power to alter the characteristics of a wine.
The best solution to this is to speak with the sommelier of the restaurant as he or she would have curated every wine in that establishment and tried every wine in that environment. At the same time, the sommelier will tell you more about each wine, and this is important because when you enjoy a wine, you enjoy everything about the wine, especially its story.
How long should a wine be allowed to breathe before you drink it?
Young wines are tastier while old wines take a longer time to open up. Aerating allows a wine's flavours to open up. The surface area of a decanter plays a part in the speed of aeration, too. Serious connoisseurs might send an old wine to a restaurant three or four hours ahead so that it can be opened and allowed to breathe before being served with their meal.
What's the ideal temperature to store a wine, given that I'm looking to let it age?
The higher the temperature, the faster a wine ages. I once visited a collector's home in Burgundy where he had installed a cellar that had temperatures hovering around 10 to 12°C. Four metres beneath this cellar, he had installed another cellar that had ambient temperatures of 7°C. We compared two similar wines from the two cellars and found that the wine from the warmer cellar tasted thinner and leaner, while the wine that had been aged in the colder cellar had more flesh to it.
Some auctions have sold wines found in shipwrecks at seabeds, where wines have aged in temperatures close to 0°C. Can you imagine the condition of a wine that has been massaged slowly by the waves, bereft of oxygen, for decades? I did get to taste some Muscadet in Brittany that had been aged for only a few years in oyster beds — it was sublime!
How do organic farming practices influence the taste of wine?
Winemakers are beginning to realise that their utilisation of the same fertilisers and pesticides in their vineyards is making their wines taste more similar. A wine is the reflection of a winery's "terroir", a French idea consisting of all the environmental factors of a specific location, and winemakers have been moving from chemical practices to biodynamic practices, in order to let wines better express a winery's unique terroir.
Biodynamics is about treating the origin of the symptoms. If you see a symptom, you go to the root of the problem. You then take preventative rather than curative measures to ensure that balance is maintained. Some vineyards are now spraying their crop with quartz silica to enhance photosynthesis, or chamomile to stabilise nitrogen in compost. Others are crushing the carcasses of pests and sprinkling them over vineyard soil, which repel pests who identify this soil as something like killing fields.
About Edwin Soon
Edwin has conducted innumerable courses on topics surrounding the cultivation and enjoyment of wine. He is also a spokesperson for wine distributor ChateauAsia.com.