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Friday, February 20, 2009

COMMENTARY: Same LCBO Vintages wines taste different at home --

COMMENTARY: The wines we writers taste at the Vintages media tasting do NOT taste like the same wines you taste at home…


Twice a month, the GTA wine writers troop down to Toronto's Vintages tasting lab to pre-sample an upcoming release. We could taste 120 or so products. These would be sparklers, still wines, fortified and sweet wines, spirits, and assorted other beverages. Not beer.


This usually means about 100 white and red table wines, the bulk of your purchases from Vintages.


Studies show that MOST of your wine purchases are for consumption that weekend of the release, that is, wines can be bought on the Friday night before the Saturday release (especially in the larger stores such as Queens Quay, Summerhill, Bayview Village, and Royal York), or on Saturday or Sunday – for immediate drinking. Nothing wrong with that.


BUT you should know that the LCBO pops the corks on the media wines by 9 AM on the media tasting day, and the white wines come out of the fridge at that time too. MOST wine writers drift in around 11AM, a few even at 1 PMAND THE WINES HAVE BEEN EXPOSED TO THE AIR FOR TWO OR MORE HOURS already. This aeration can kill a fresh and fruity wine, can play havoc with a chilled white that is almost at room temperature, can flatten a sparkling wine, and can enhance a big red wine.


REMEMBER, each open bottle is hoisted by a wine writer and some LCBO people and tilted before being poured. Each bottle has been aerated by a dozen people before that PM wine writer gets there – and each bottle has thus been compromised.


As additional studies show, the wines you taste at home have probably been opened only 10 minutes before you actually consume them. And you will probably finish that bottle within half an hour if you have company. That wine will taste different than the wine we taste, simply because we taste a wine that has been exposed to oxygen far longer than normal…That big heavy red that we enthuse over is only good because it has been aerated longer than yours. If you were to give your bottle more aeration time, then it too will approximate what we taste in the lab. This will mean double decanting your red wines.


Your white wines of course, will need to be chilled, unlike the Vintages lab wines which have been out of the fridge for a couple of hours. But then – those are the only white wines we get to taste, and some have lost their fragrance and their fragility.


Only one wine writer – the guy at the Toronto Star – tastes the wines at 9 AM; his opinion may be more valid than other wine writers in terms of the wine that you are actually drinking that night, should you just pop the corks and not bother to decant.


ALSO: you may wish to consider the issue of palate fatigue. Studies have shown that wine judges face palate fatigue; they ought not to taste more than 100 wines a day. Yet wine writers at Vintages regularly taste 100 wines in a few hours! There is no way that good judgement can be made on many red wines as these are tasted after writers taste the many white wines. Most writers go through the bottles as put out by the LCBO, light white wines to heavy red wines. By the time they are halfway through the reds, their palates are compromised. Of course we constantly spit out the wines, but alcohol enters our body through the skin in the mouth. That is why some writers no longer taste all the wines, preferring to taste only half or fewer. This will also mean that they might miss a scoop or two on some interesting wines that may be forgotten in the rush.


Beware the writers who taste ALL the wines and write notes on all of them. They do not probably taste "fresh" bottles. They get to the heavy reds at 2 PM, five hours after the bottles are open, and this length of time favours the taste profile of the red wine. If you want to taste along with those writers, then you must be prepared to open and decant your bottles ahead of time – five hours or so. Nothing else will suffice…


REMEMBER that GTA wine writers taste warmer white wines that have been opened a while (and this diminishes the wine's character) and red wines that have been exposed to oxygen for quite some time (and this plumps up the wine's character, except for the fresh and fruity reds).


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