Taste’s Grey Zone

There’s an old saying that “Bad luck always comes in threes” which I thought of as I drank the last of 3 bottles of wine at home recently, each of which had got me thinking about another saying, that “Life’s too short to drink bad wine” – but what really constitutes a bad wine? Of course nobody intentionally goes out to buy unpleasant wine, but for one reason or another we all eventually end up with a glass in hand thinking “is there something wrong with this?” and then trying to decide whether life really is too short to continue with it.

I am all for quickly disposing of an obviously corked bottle or any liquid that bears close resemblance to paint stripper or vinegar, but taste is such a subjective matter that the buffer zone between undrinkable and “a goodly wine” (insert your scoring threshold of choice – 90/100, 16/20, 4 stars, Gold Medal – here) is disputed territory, moulded by your palate, experience, emotion, situation and budget. This is a truly grey area of wine drinking which encompasses several battle cries, including;

  • “tolerable” : Emotion is the usual modifier in these situations – Do you persevere with that slightly oxidised glass or where there’s only the faintest whiff of TCA? How about that pleasant enough 10 year old red that should have been drunk 5 years ago?
  • “somewhat unbalanced” : Palate and context take control here – Good grip or hashly tannic? Food-friendly or overly acidic?
  • “lacks character” : High expections usually leads to this one – Inoffensive but bland? Pleasant, but for the price paid?
  • “not typical” (of the grape, region or producer) : Experience & expectations lead all too often to this as a criticism, sometimes ignoring the fact that there’s a good wine in the glass –  A deeply coloured Pinot Noir? An oaked Riesling?
  • “not to my taste”: The grandfather of taste subjectiveness in wine drinking – effectively there’s nothing particularly wrong with it except it’s not your style. Unfortunately over analysing this one usually forces the previous 3 into play.
  • “not what one is accustomed to”: The battle hymn of a wine drinker with a healthy bank balance, sadly all too often used to decry perfectly good wine regardless of value for money.

So what were the three wines that set me off on this post, and exactly where do they fit into my rudimentary grey zone of taste?

The first was Yealands Estate 2009 Gewurztraminer (£9.49, Dillies, Hexham, May 2011). I first encountered Yealands in 2009 with a bottle of their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc which inspired me to write about the winery on Reign of Terroir in the post Little Sheep and Green Wine. Sadly I didn’t enjoy that bottle (an extremely over-the-top Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc) nor their 2008 Pinot Gris I tried last year (a little dull). Hoping for a “third time lucky” experience I was again disappointed by a strongly perfumed wine with a thick, glycerol texture that just seemed too rich, too heavy and lacking in freshness.

Compared to many an Alsace Gewürztraminer I’ve enjoyed this was an extreme disappointement but there wasn’t any fault as such in the wine, being a mix of “lacks character” and “not to my taste”.

Next was Bethany 2009 Barossa Chardonnay (£7.50, co-op, Prudhoe, August 2010). I’m a signed up member of the ABC society (Anything But Chardonnay) but every now and again I try a bottle to see if my tastes are changing – with this bottle I just renewed my 2011 subscription. The Bethany website indicates “restrained oak nuances”, unfortunately the oak was far from restrained and there was also slight reduction on the nose, while the texture was thick and a little cloying with a bitter finish to the flavour. It did improve the next day, with some buttery fruit coming out and a lemon aspect, but the woody bitterness never quite went away.

I imagine lovers of oaky Chardonnay would be OK with this, but for me it was “somewhat unbalanced” and definitely “not to my taste”.

Finally the Ingelheimer Winzerkeller 2007 Spätburgunder Classic (approx £4, Germany, November 2009). I knew that this was likely to be a struggle before I opened it, part of an inexpensive gift pack of 6 wines from a local wine shop in Ingelheim, Germany. This Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir by any other name) did not smell particularly sweet, in fact it was a little sweaty with some jammy fruit but with a chemical component. The taste was also on a fine edge between jammy cherry fruit and green & unbalanced. It wasn’t unpleasant, and benefitted from being drank slightly chilled, but at the same time there was something that wasn’t quite right.

This one was a combination of “tolerable”, “lacks character” and “not what one is accustomed to”.

After nearly 2 weeks of wine “tolerance” tonight I’m back on track with a very enjoyable Bordeaux, the smooth Château du Val d’Or 2005 St-Emilion Grand Cru (£7.49, Tesco, October 2008) with plenty of cassis fruit and fine chocolatey tannins to keep me interested; a very characterful, typical, balanced wine, perfectly to my taste and which I can easily become accustomed to.

In wine you often make your own luck and there are very few truly bad wines, but in matters of taste there is no golden rule.


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