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Wine Mysteries - Reflexions on the unexplained

Wine Chemistry

There are many mysteries to wine, and that's perhaps why as a subject it continues to stimulate the interest as well as the palate. There's one that has been on my mind most of the summer, one that I've noticed many a time, but that I've never really addressed seriously. It's this; the puzzle of taste and provenance.

There are many mysteries to wine, and that's perhaps why as a subject it continues to stimulate the interest as well as the palate. There's one that has been on my mind most of the summer, one that I've noticed many a time, but that I've never really addressed seriously. It's this; the puzzle of taste and provenance.

Have you ever noticed that a wine that tastes remarkable in one set of circumstances can taste less than exciting when tasted in another? It's a common enough phenomenon, but largely unexplored. A wine that tasted wonderful over a romantic candle-lit dinner a deux sometimes tastes dull and mediocre over your own kitchen table. It becomes even more noticeable when you're travelling. Sitting in a small taverna on a Greek island beach watching a summer sun set golden orange over the Aegean Sea with a glass of retsina in hand can be a magical feeling. Something remarkable happens - retsina seems to taste good; as though its tarry, woody, turpentine flavours were made exactly and precisely to be in harmony with the sights, the sounds and the smells of the Aegean. The moment lingers, it becomes an epiphany, and you bring two bottles of retsina home. We all know what happens next. Here, around an Irish table, it tastes very unpleasant.

You can find less extreme examples than retsina. A sherry in the afternoon in a bodega in Jerez tastes very different from that same sherry drunk on a damp and dreary winter afternoon in Ireland. Sip a white port with ice on the banks of the Tagus and it won't taste the same as it does on the Lee's leafy banks. Wines, it appears, are very much the product of their provenance and are at their most harmonious when drunk in the environment of which they are part.

This might just explain why it's the wines with the least forceful character that travel best. Wines that have no extemes of tastes are the most likely to find themselves pleasing palates well away from their point of origin. This may also help to explain why global wine-makers are constantly seeking that elusive wine, the wine that is all things to all people. If you can find that taste, your export market is vitually guaranteed. But this isn't a phenomenon that applies only to wine, I've given up trying to drink Guinness in France or Italy. Much the same effect applies - unless it's drunk in a steamy, smokey Irish pub, it never really taste quite right.

Recommended wine

Cono Sur Pinot Noir, 2001

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