Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Day Wine Tasted Bad

Last Thursday, as the Pineapple Express storm howled outside our windows, I prepared a comfort food: bacon-cheeseburgers. I had all the ingredients for an oeonophile version: Benton's super smokey bacon, English raw-milk aged cheddar, and grass-fed, grain-finished ground beef. All I needed was the right bottle of wine.

I thought I was in the mood for a comfort wine: a ripe, rich red. I get dozens of this kind of wine as samples but don't have the desire for them often enough. What an opportunity! I opened a Cabernet I'd been wanting to try, and found it short, hollow and unappetizing. Well, not to worry, I had plenty more to choose from. I opened five more red wines, and disliked them all.

This happens, as anyone who tastes wine professionally can tell you. It doesn't matter if they're expensive; sometimes you just don't like the wines. You can get yourself into a quandary if you have to rate them and you admire but dislike them: Zinfandels over 15.5 percent alcohol, for example, do that to me. But that's not what I was opening here. All were wines that, for one reason or another, I expected to like.

Still, no problem, there's always more wine around my home. I opened more bottles.


What if this happened at a wine competition?
This time I aimed a little higher, because my wife was hungry and I wanted to start cooking, and a little wider, not going solely for riper reds. Reserve Syrahs. Wines from Spain and Croatia I'd been saving for a special one-bottle-only-night occasion. I hated them too. Fifteen bottles opened, a few scattered glasses on the counter that I hoped would improve with air, most bottles poured down the drain.

I remembered a conversation I once had with Marin County winemaker Sean Thackrey. He said before opening a great wine -- a Hermitage from a special vintage, for example -- he would open a similar, lesser wine (a cheaper Syrah) to see how it was tasting. Sean believes certain wines taste better or worse on certain days. Beyond the idea that your body and taste buds can be different, his theory is that atmospheric conditions influence the taste.

Thursday was an exceptional day, atmospherically: very wet, high humidity, warmer than expected. Psychologically, I thought I was in the mood to love a red wine. Physically I felt fine. But red wine just tasted bad.

My tongue felt strafed by tannins, so I decided to freshen it with a few sips of a fine white wine I'd loved on Wednesday, a Russian River Valley Chardonnay. That didn't taste as great to me either. I knew I was in trouble.

I opened three more red wines: a single-vineyard Pinot Noir from a producer I like, a Napa Merlot I liked just two weeks earlier and a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano I liked two vintages ago. At this point I was being foolishly wasteful, but I had to know. Sure enough, I didn't like any of them. I didn't hate them like I had some of the earlier wines, but maybe that's because I knew, logically, I shouldn't.

I made the bacon cheeseburgers and served the three wines to my wife, trying not to bias her against them. She doesn't worry about wine like I do; she had a glass of Merlot and pronounced it acceptable. Me, I drank a little Merlot, a little Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and they were serviceable with the ground beef, but no more enjoyable to me than pulling something corporate at random off the Safeway shelf.

I know a food writer who was in a traffic accident and lost her sense of smell. I had this worry: had something changed in me? Would wine never taste good again? It's enough to make you wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding.

The next night, friends came over for pizza and board games. I liked the wines they brought, and I opened some California wines that I liked more than they did (they're Eurosnobs.) I was cured. I was fine.

But what happened Thursday? What happened on The Day Wine Tasted Bad? Did anybody else experience this last week?

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jason Carey said...

This has happened to me before.. Its just one of those weird things.. then I usually open a white or drink a beer.

Jack Everitt said...

This happens perhaps three times a year for me. Just nothing is enjoyable, no matter how many bottles of wine I open. Beer is the winner here. We should track this and see if it's generally the same days.

Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...


Did you sample any beer or sake or sparklikng wine to further test your palate?


Bob Henry (Los Angeles wine industry professional) said...



Did you sample any beer or sake or sparkling wine to further test your palate?


And did you do anything to preserve the opened bottles to resample them on another calendar day?

Daniel Carbin said...

This happened to me earlier this year. I opened 6 bottles of wine. They all tasted hollow and tannic and just off-putting. At first, I thought the first two bottles must have be flawed but I couldn't nail it - cork taint combined with oxidization? With each additional bottle opened I grew more frustrated and worried. My palate got back to normal but it took two days.

Ray Everett said...

Case study for using Coravin. Don't throw out that wine if it's your palate that's hit a bad patch, save it for another day!

Achilles said...

I am in the middle of this at the moment, for the last few days all red mines have tasted dreadful, I can't place it, the tannin tastes vile. Nice to know other people have experienced it, I thought it was something neurological