Grilled Saratoga lamb chops for dinner, my favorite. Instead of the usual Southern Rhone reds I drink with these, I decided to open the wine you see on the left, 2003 Reserve de la Comtesse, a lower level product from the folks who make the much loved and very expensive Pichon Lalande. While I love the latter, I have never warmed up to their lesser offering in past tastings. Thus already prejudiced, I took a sip before dinner, and I thought “oh, crap.” It tasted too lean and acidic. I wanted a fuller wine.
So I opened the bottle to the right, a recent K&L wine club offering, a 2009 Napa Cabarnet. Wonderful. Full bodied, pleasing in the mouth, hint of sweetness typical of its terroir,good alcohol. We then began eating.
Julie, my wife, poured some of the Bordeaux and after a few minutes commented, “I kind of like this wine.”
“Good, you can have it.”
But then curiosity took hold. So I poured a bit more of the Comtesse, now well into my first lamb chop. Wouldn’t you know it? The wine was transformed into something wonderful. Great fruit, well balanced, restrained expression, good finish.
“Wait a minute”, I said, “don’t drink it all. I want some too.”
At the end of dinner, with the Bordeaux gone, I returned to the Sequoia Grove. Rough, unbalanced, an oak-bomb in the finish. How could I have liked this just a half hour earlier? The bottle stayed open, unconsumed, waiting to be discarded in days to come.
This experience is a good testament to the subjectivity of the wine experience and the context within which it is tasted. With me prejudiced and devoid of food, the Bordeaux didn’t show well. The Napa Cab on the other hand, performed as it always does with me, good as an aperitif, but not food friendly. The food always highlights the extra oak these wines feature. Now tell me how you can trust those pundits who assign number ratings to wine, in an environment where they taste hundreds per day, one after the other – spitting of course – with no regular food accompaniment.