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Wednesday Warblings
When Wine Tasting Becomes Hard Work

By Stephen Eliot

Don’t get me wrong. I am not unappreciative about the job that I have. I get paid to taste wine.

I mean, really, getting paid to taste bottle after bottle of wine and tell people what I think? Is that work? There are far worse things one can do to make a living. There are times, however, and I know that everyone in this industry knows just what I mean, that the business of tasting wine can become one of real work.

The funny thing is that the really wearing times are not those when inexpensive, lesser quality stuff is on the table. No, while fatigue and an unfocused mind might randomly arrive any day, they more often come on the heels of more serious flights of wines, especially when multiple bottlings from the same producer are the docket. And, it is not always the bigger, most tannic wines that take the biggest toll.

I confess to feeling surprisingly spent after working my way through one after another Pinot Noir made by the same winery but from different vineyard sites, and, with every new vintage, it seems that the number of these multiple vineyard bottling expands.

Both I and our readers have commented on Pinot’s predilections to reflect specific terroir more than most of its red cousins. While the debate goes on, and the question is far from answered, I do think the perception is generally shared by a good many wine lovers and explains, at least to some extent, why so many producers feel the need to keep separate so many different vineyard lots. Maybe Pinot does allow the land to speak in clearer tones than other varietals; maybe it is because we still defer to the authority of France when it comes to things vinous and seek validation in mimicking Burgundy. For whatever the reasons, one thing is clear, there are more Pinot producers making more single-vineyard bottlings than ever before.

Now, sometimes there are profound differences from one such lot to another, such as when one producer crafts individual Pinots from the Sonoma Coast, the Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands, but, more often than not, the differences are small and take a keen eye to see. We have often said that studied wine connoisseurship is, in fact, a world of small differences. It is that world, I think, that invites criticisms of wine snobbery and such, but those differences are no less real because they take concentration and effort to find.

It is fair enough question to ask, just how much joy can such wines really afford if they take so much work to really understand. After a long evening of tasting our ways through more than a few new Pinots, I must admit to some sympathy this morning for those who would ask. The thing is, however, really good Pinot Noir satisfies my fascination for nuance like no other red wine, and what was work at the tasting table will become pure pleasure at dinner.


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