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Robin Garr

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WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Robin Garr » Mon Aug 28, 2006 2:52 pm

(This duplicates some of the material in other MoCool posts, but I'm reposting it to keep the forum's <I>30 Second Wine Advisor</I> archive intact.)

Does tasting environment matter?

Wine snobs will tell you that the proper environment for tasting great wines must be formal, quiet and classy, with proper crystal set upon white damask tablecloths, in a purified setting with no distracting aromas or sounds.

The annual Internet wine-enthusiast gathering called "MoCool," in contrast, is held outdoors, under a small circus tent on a lakeside in a rural area in Southern Michigan, with mosquitoes, humidity and a distant whiff of poorly maintained pig farm to tease the taste buds, and wines poured into suitable if undersize glasses in a frenzied, noisy setting.

Yet MoCool, this year like every year, turns out to be one of the most memorable wine events on my calendar, and I invariably come home with memories - and tasting notes - on dozens of wonderful wines that didn't seem to lose a thing from the "inappropriate" setting.

I'm thinking the snobs are wrong, as they so often are. If wine is really about social enjoyment with friends, then all the rest is secondary. And once you get your mind focused and your nose well into the glass, it's surprisingly easy to ignore distractions and concentrate on the wine.

"MoCool" is short for "MoTown Cooperative Offline," a non-profit, non-commercial gathering of Internet-connected wine lovers that's been going on for 16 years now. Participants converge on the Detroit and Ann Arbor area for a weekend of wine-related events that center on the aforementioned picnic scene, where 100 wine lovers or more bring wines with some connection to the annual theme. The 2006 event was this past weekend, with the theme "Sweet, Sixteen and Bubbly" inviting dessert wines, sparkling wines and, best of all, 16-year-old wines from the vintage of 1990 around the world.

My complete report, with my own notes on nearly 100 wines sampled over the weekend, is now online at the MoCool Home Page,
http://www.wineloverspage.com/mocool
where you can also join an E-mail list to be notified about next year's gathering.

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few short reports on random wines of the weekend that I found particularly interesting:

<B>Laurel Glen 1987 Sonoma Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon</B> - Sweet red fruit, a lot of barnyard. Mature or maybe a bit more than mature, but still going strong.

<B>Edmunds St. John 1997 Story Vineyard Amador County Zinfandel</B> - Showing a little oxidation, but mostly dark chocolate and lovely old-red claret-like sweet red fruit. Remarkably good mature red, although I don't know that I'd have picked it as Zin in a blind tasting.

<B>Schweiger Vineyards 2000 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon</B> - Big and bold, cassis and eucalyptus and dark chocolate, classic Napa Cabernet. Promising, but needs cellar time.

<B>Moulin Touchais 1979 Anjou</B> - Pale straw. Luscious and rich, strawberries and cream, incredibly youthful. A Loire classic.

<B>Ch. Leoville Las Cases 1967 St.-Julien</B> - Cassis and leather, fully mature but very much alive. Amazing.

<B>Chateau Musar 1966</B> - Clear, medium-dark ruby, youthful color belies its age. A bit of old-wine funk, but Musar sweet-cherry aromas ride over it, and it's a delight on the palate, crisp and balanced and remarkably youthful.

<B>Chateau Musar 1998 Blanc</B> - Light golden-bronze, a look of age. Lovely aromatics, beeswax and roasted almonds. Rich white fruit, full-bodied, balanced acidity.

<B>Pol Roger 1990 Brut Rosé</B> - Pretty, pale salmon. Truffly, tart and dry. Holding up well, perhaps the best bubbly on the table for me.

<B>Pol Roger 1990 Brut</B> - Gold. Truffles, mushrooms, apples and honey. Creamy, rich, full-bodied. Fine.

<B>Albert Morot 1990 Beaune-Marconetts 1er Cru</B> - Pale ruby. Ethereal, delicate mineral iron-rust scent; sweet red-fruit flavor. Wonderful, intriguing older Burg.

<B>Santa Rita - Casa Real 1990 Maipo Valley Cabernet Sauvignon</B> - Rich Cabernet from Chile, big and balanced. Cassis and chocolate, acid and substantial tannins.

<B>1990 Cos d'Estournel</B> - Mature red fruit, a hint of barnyard, excellent mature Bordeaux.

<B>Shafer 1990 Hillside Select Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon</B> - Beautiful balance and structure, a great Napa Cabernet.

<B>Ridge 1990 Lytton Springs Zinfandel</B> - Red fruit and leather, claret-like, holding up very well.

<B>Chateau LaGrange 1990 Saint-Julien</B> - Cassis, herbal notes, hints of anise and white pepper.

<B>Ch. Lafite-Rothschild 1990 Pauillac</B> - Amazing. A burst of cassis right out of the glass, beautiful structure and balance. Oh, yeah!

<B>Graham's Malvedos Centenary 1990 Vintage Port</B> - Deep fruit, searing tannins; great potential, still very young.
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Howie Hart

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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Howie Hart » Mon Aug 28, 2006 3:11 pm

Robin Garr wrote:<B>Pol Roger 1990 Brut Rosé</B> - Pretty, pale salmon. Truffly, tart and dry. Holding up well, perhaps the best bubbly on the table for me.

<B>Pol Roger 1990 Brut</B> - Gold. Truffles, mushrooms, apples and honey. Creamy, rich, full-bodied. Fine.

To my recollection, I don't think I've ever had a truffle, and I was wondering about that earthiness I picked up, not only in these two Champagnes, but in a few of the other 1990s. There was a slight hint of it in the Mumm's. Note to self - find some truffles and figure out what to do with them. :?
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Bob Henrick » Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:00 pm

I have never had a truffle either Howie (don't think I could afford them), I too found the nuance in these same wines, and just though it to be rather pleasant mushroomy aromas and flavors. Nothing wrong with the bready yeasty fruit to my way of thinking either. BTW, I have your Vidal in my fridge for a little later, (taking your Sunday morning advice) and am thinking I will just pretend I am back under the tent drinking a sparkler again. Thanks Howie for your generosity in sharing your expertise with me and all the others.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Rahsaan » Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:05 pm

It seems like the answer to your question is not that tasting environment does not matter, but rather that the formal clinical environment you described at the beginning is not necessarily the best.

However, there are many environments (e.g. a loud, dark, smoky and crowded nightclub) where I would find it difficult to appreciate wine, although of course one could typologize about the different wines that show better in different environments..
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by wrcstl » Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:06 pm

Howie Hart wrote:To my recollection, I don't think I've ever had a truffle, and I was wondering about that earthiness I picked up, not only in these two Champagnes, but in a few of the other 1990s. There was a slight hint of it in the Mumm's. Note to self - find some truffles and figure out what to do with them. :?


Howie,
This is my favorite dominate flavor in food. Truffles are hard to come by a very expensive. Look around for truffle paste in a tube. We usually always have some, won't break the bank and even though the "truffle snob" may not agree it is fantastic. Make about 1/4lb pasta and add nothing but 1 TBS truffle paste and serve as a 1st course when the weather turns cool. It is fantastic.
Walt
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Howie Hart » Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:16 pm

Thanks Walt - there are a few upscale supermarkets and imported food stores in the area, so I'll keep my eyes peeled.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Ian Sutton » Mon Aug 28, 2006 4:51 pm

Environment matters, but I'd add to that the company of people you're tasting with, frame of mind, expectations etc.
Lots of factors, each of which can affect the impression.

For the act of writing tasting notes, I think consistency is very important, but for enjoyment I'll take it as it comes.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Robin Garr » Mon Aug 28, 2006 5:23 pm

Rahsaan wrote:It seems like the answer to your question is not that tasting environment does not matter, but rather that the formal clinical environment you described at the beginning is not necessarily the best.


Pretty much, Rahsaan, although really what I had in mind was a more tongue-in-cheek way of restating the argument that some of us have made in the "best wine you ever tasted" thread: Ideally, wine is a social beverage, and the memorable glasses aren't necessarily the ones that earn the highest point scores on qualitative analysis but those we enjoyed in the happiest settings with the best friends and lovers. Or something like that. And a reassurance that you don't absolutely have to have a laboratory (or white tablecloth) setting to enjoy or even to rate and describe great wines.

However, there are many environments (e.g. a loud, dark, smoky and crowded nightclub) where I would find it difficult to appreciate wine, although of course one could typologize about the different wines that show better in different environments..


<b>Smoky!</b> S L O W L Y I turn ... there's a problem worse than the distant whiff of pig$#!+ at MoCool. Nothing will destroy wine worse than other people's tobacco smoke. Some uncivilized idiot was smoking a cigar after dinner at MoCool ... at least whoever it was had the sense to stay out of the tent, but not far enough to keep the acrid pollution from creeping in.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by OW Holmes » Mon Aug 28, 2006 10:16 pm

Robin, that wasn't pigs#!t. That was cows#!t. Ask any farm boy. And it was far better than the cigar smoke. Reminded me a bit of the 93 Musar.
-OW
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Paul Noga » Mon Aug 28, 2006 10:39 pm

I think the question needs to be framed not as "does tasting environment matter?", but "does tasting environment matter based on your goals?".

Tasting for enjoyment would suggest the inclusion of friends, good food, a convivial atmosphere, etc. Tasting for evaluation would suggest different criteria, the most important of which would be consistency and the absence of outside influences, such as friends, good food, and a convivial atmosphere.

I have never professionally judge a wine, but would think that to evaluate different wines at different times, with wildly varying environments, would definitely ensure results that were not based solely on the wine. While I firmly believe wine is best experienced with good food, its absence seems essential to a formal evaluation: any food that is paired might not be the best for a specific wine, and so eating the same food with multiple wines could unfairly advantage one while disadvantaging another.

When all is said and done, I'll let the professionals evaluate the wines in the sterile environment required, and then buy the best to enjoy with my friends with music in the background, good food on the table, and good conversation around it.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Bill Hooper » Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:12 pm

Hell yes environment matters. How often does a later-realized good, but not great (or even downright mediocre) wine taste better at the vineyard or other romant"isch" locale than when you bring the damn thing home? Fond memories aside, the mind (and wine) does funny things to a winedrinkers judgement. Location is everything.


Prost!
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Robin Garr » Mon Aug 28, 2006 11:57 pm

OW Holmes wrote:Robin, that wasn't pigs#!t. That was cows#!t. Ask any farm boy.


As a city boy, OW, I bow to your expertise. However, I was told by a local that the effluent was emerging from a pig farm not too far away.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Remo Perriello » Tue Aug 29, 2006 1:27 am

Bill Hooper wrote:Hell yes environment matters. How often does a later-realized good, but not great (or even downright mediocre) wine taste better at the vineyard or other romant"isch" locale than when you bring the damn thing home? Fond memories aside, the mind (and wine) does funny things to a winedrinkers judgement. Location is everything.


Prost!
Bill


Good point Bill. That reminds me of an Italian wine event we had at our store in the cantina (wine cellar) Wine Tasting taught by my friend David. Anyway, one of our participates, after tasting a wine, always said, "Nope, this does not taste as good as the Chianti I had everywhere in Italy, when I was there with so many of my friends"

Ok, fair enough, but after every wine she would say the same thing. She said she had Chianti everywhere she went in Italy. Hmmm...? So, we kindly blind tasted her with a Beaujolais wine, at the end of the event, for fun of course...

"Yup, thats it! I love it!"

Case in point...
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Steve Kirsch » Tue Aug 29, 2006 9:09 am

Robin, I had the same thoughts exactly at and after this year's MO'COOL. And I think I came to the same conclusion you have. Here's one way I think of it: Which is superior--a crappy commercial bubblegum pop song on a $10,000 stereo system or your favorite Beatles tune on a tinny, $10 portable radio? Sometimes one element of an experience can be utterly and completely central to the enjoyment, and in the case of MO'COOL that's the conviviality and sense of community.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Sam Platt » Tue Aug 29, 2006 9:28 am

On several occasions I have tasted a particular wine, during a get together with friends, and loved it. Then I drink that exact wine later in a more austere setting to find it's not as good as I had remembered. The opposite effect almost never occurs. The MoCool comments set me to thinking that perhaps a convivial atmosphere changes one's perception of wine in a positive way. Hmmm...
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Robin Garr » Tue Aug 29, 2006 9:29 am

Steve Kirsch wrote:Which is superior--a crappy commercial bubblegum pop song on a $10,000 stereo system or your favorite Beatles tune on a tinny, $10 portable radio?


Great analogy, Steve! Good to see you this year, as usual ... here's hoping we can all do it again next year.
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Re: WineAdvisor/Yet More MoCool: Does tasting environment matter?

by Paul B. » Tue Aug 29, 2006 11:27 am

Not being able to speak of this year's MoCool, which I unfortunately had to miss at the last moment, I can say based on previous years' experience that the picnic especially offers a chance to really experience a wine in all its dimensions. I have, to this day, very fond memories of sipping some of my favourites from last year alongside that wonderful lamb and caprese that we had, all the while viewing the lake and taking in the cheerful company all around. It could be different, though, depending on one's purpose; for me, enjoyment of wine can come from analysis, but just as often that enjoyment is non-critical and seeks to be part of the overall experience which includes the milieu of the moment.
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