Power of suggestion
We've all been there and done that, or at least most of us have: You're just about to take your first sniff of a wine you haven't tried before, and your eyes fall on the advertising copy printed on the back label: "This wine's naturally sweet flavor reminds me of wild hickory nuts."
<I>Now</I> they've done it! Suddenly your brain fills up and overflows, and everything you taste reminds you of hickory.
Or you're at a tasting, sniffing Glass No. 3 and trying to parse out that elusive scent, when one of your peers yells out, "I get licorice and Vaseline in it!" You don't think that's right, not really, but now, suddenly, no matter how hard you fight it, you're picking up licorice and Vaseline, too.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Wine, for most of us, is a social beverage, and when we're enjoying wine with fellow enthusiasts, the back-and-forth that accompanies tasting in a group becomes part of the fun of it. It doesn't really matter who first named the descriptive term that wins.
Things get a little more iffy in formal competition or trade tasting, though, where a blue ribbon - or a merchant's buying decision - may hang in the balance. Judges in wine competitions are usually discouraged (indeed, in some cases, flatly forbidden) to compare notes, at least during the early stages of judging.
Wine-buying sessions can get even more complicated, with wine sales representatives doing all they can to plant their own glowing descriptions (or raves from the Usual Suspects), in the mind of the buyer, who may do everything short of putting his fingers in his ears and humming "<i>neener, neener, neener</i>" in an effort to resist.
This issue came to mind over the weekend when I picked up a good, moderately priced Austrian Grüner Veltliner for tasting. Unfamiliar with the producer (<b>Schloss Gobelsburg</b> in Langenlois, on the Danube west of Vienna), I Googled merrily, browsing an importer's Website, and ... ack! A tasting report! I saw a tasting report!
For all the reasons covered above, I try not to read other people's tasting notes before tasting a wine for review, fearing that my perceptions might be subtly influenced. But it was too late: The review was not only clear and precise, it was written by a taster for whom I have serious respect, David Schildknecht of the regional importer Vintner Select, a guy with whom I've often tasted wine and who was recently tapped by none other than Robert M. Parker Jr. himself to write about German and Austrian wines for Parker's <I>Wine Advocate</i>.
How could I possibly read a Schildknecht review of a wine I was about to taste without being influenced by it? It wouldn't be easy, but I would have to try.
Luckily, David made it easy for me: I won't give away the details of his note - you can look it up, if you like
- but suffice it to say that it typified his legendary lapidary precision, using no less than 15 very specific descriptors in a one-paragraph report. Chances are that many readers will skip the words and go straight to David's 90-point rating; but I read them all, and fixated on one term, a descriptor so odd and so specific, so quintessentially Schildknecht, that it made me laugh: "roasted lentils."
Roasted lentils? Now, there's a term that I doubt I'll ever find in wine, and sure enough, I didn't find it in this one, although such is the power of suggestion that I had to sniff it long and hard before reassuring myself that I just didn't get it.
The lesson here is a useful one, though: If you want to evaluate a wine with your own taste buds and your own brain, and you're confronted with another taster's opinion that wants to lock itself in, laugh it off. Focus on something else, then come back to the wine.
I'd love to hear your stories about wine descriptors you've had foisted on you by your tasting companions, and any successful strategies you've come up with to fight 'em off. You're also invited to participate in this week's Netscape WineLovers poll
, inviting you to tell us where you stand in terms of wine-tasting suggestibility.
<table border="0" align="right" width="170"><tr><td><img src="http://www.wineloverspage.com/graphics1/gobe0820.jpg" border="1" align="right"></td></tr></table>Schloss Gobelsburg 2004 "Gobelsburger" Grüner Veltliner ($13.49)
Straw color, transparent but bright. Intriguing scent: Wine scribe David Schildknecht wrote "roasted lentils" - an aroma that I have never found in a wine - and now I can't get the idea out of my head. I'm not sure I find it here, though; but there's fragrant white pepper for sure, green garden peas, and more than a hint of something peachy. The aromatics almost lead me to expect light sweetness, but it's bone-dry and crisply acidic, delicate and light-bodied, yet there's steel in there, and rocky Austrian minerality. An outstanding wine at quite a fair price. U.S. importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY; a Terry Theise Estate Selection. (Aug. 20, 2006)
<B>FOOD MATCH:</b> GV is gaining attention as a "utility infielder" wine that can play well at many positions. It was fine with a summer dinner of fresh tomatoes lined with pistachio-studded mortadella and filled with fromage blanc, tomato concasse and Greek green olives.
<B>VALUE:</B> One of the summer's great white-wine values at this price.
<B>WHEN TO DRINK:</B> Crisp and fresh and ready to enjoy, and it will hold up well and perhaps gain richness with several years under proper storage conditions.
The winery Website
is published in German and English. Click the language of your choice from the home page.
Here's the importer's fact sheet
on the Schloss Gobelsburg winery, from which you can click to details about each specific wine.
<B>FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:</B>
Find vendors and check prices for Gobelsburger Grüner Veltliner on Wine-Searcher.com
(Note that Wine-Searcher.com also returns some hits on more pricey Gobelsburg bottlings.)