Sunday, March 30, 2008

Taster's Lament

I'm sitting at a table with four glasses in front of me: a Barolo, a monster Shiraz, a Bourgueil, and a Barbera. I glare at each of them in turn, then dig into my chocolate cake and cannoli with frustration. I hear that someone just popped a Turley Zinfandel downstairs, and there's a 94-point Rioja on the table. It's 80 minutes into the Wine Library event at Basilico's restaurant, and I can no longer taste wine.

To be fair, it's not that I went completely aguesic - it's just that every wine I smelled or tasted seemed oxidized. The "bruised apple" smell overpowered all aromas, even in wines I'd tasted earlier and knew to be perfectly fine. I tried washing my glasses. I tried changing glasses. I sniffed other people's glasses. I downed lots of bread and water in an effort to cleanse my palate. Nothing worked.

Ironically, I only learned to identify oxidized wines earlier that day. Joe G pointed out the flaw in the 1965 and 1969 Louis Martini Cabernets at the WLTV taping. (The '65, incidentally, was also my first "corked" wine, and the unpleasant taste lingered on my tongue for hours afterwards) At first I didn't find the oxidization unpleasant - just like bad apple cider with stewed figs, and a little bitterness. In fact, a lot of people in the room were drinking it, and I can understand why - there was still a little sugar and acidity, so the wine wasn't completely unpalatable, though it didn't remotely resemble wine.

It wasn't long until my next encounter - a 2003 Sandro Fay Sassella that Joe opened after the taping. The color seemed fine, but the nose was totally oxidized. At Basilico's, it happened again. We were offered a '93 Beaucastel Rousanne from a nearby table. The copper color was an immediate warning flag, and the nose confirmed total oxidation. At this point I shouldn't have tasted it, but I wanted to really memorize the flaw, so I did. About five wines later, I started tasting nothing but acetaldehyde, effectively ending my tasting for the night.

However, it was still a fantastic event overall. I got to taste some great wines before my palate went haywire, including a beautifully vibrant 1982 Ch. Calon-Segur, from double-magnum. I brought my own glass for the Calon, so I was luckier than some. The WLTV taping in the mezzanine was surreal, the excitement as palpable as the riot of wafting wine aromas. My unfortunate lesson in the dangers of drinking flawed wine only contributed to the memorability of this singular day. Thank you Gary and everyone who made this event possible!