by Markus Stolz

Slow starters

byMarkus Stolz
November 16, 2009, 8 Comments

Finish lineOver the last few weeks, I have organised several tasting events of Greek wines abroad. Being back now in Athens, I continue to taste wines from Greece on a daily basis. In my own setting, I have much more time and tend to go back to the same wine over a period of several hours. To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of wines is how they change over time. I simply love how different aromas reveal themselves, take the upper hand, blend in with the existing sensations, and then give way to yet another wave of different aromas.

It is no exception that I come across wines that are quiet, if not silent, to begin with. After half an hour or so, they slowly start to speak, then chat me up, and in the best cases end up singing to me with beautiful voices. How sad would it be to dismiss such wines as average or dull after the first few sips.

There are certain grape varieties that lack a fresh primary fruit element – Xinomavro is a good example. In many cases, these wines will be unexciting in the beginning, and only reward the drinker after having been aerated for several hours. By then they have gained depth and character. Once they have reached this stage, they keep changing their aromas for several more hours, and do not tire out easily. Unique terroir can also give birth to wines that share a similar thread. To me the red wines produced by the Alpha Estate are nearly always “slow starters” that accelerate after some time in the glass.

At some tasting events, one is able to pour the relevant wines in a decanter several hours before offering them. I see more and more Greek wineries doing this at exhibitions. I did the same for some of the wines I showed at the public tasting event I held a couple of weeks ago. Of course it can be argued that different tasting conditions now exist for different wines. However, I do find this fairer than not to cater at all for different wines. After all, no wine is the same; wine is a living organism, it evolves and changes – and every wine has a unique personality.

How should these wines then be judged? The wine critic needs to evaluate every wine under the same conditions; every bias has to be eliminated. A professional wine critic should have the ability, knowledge and experience to take the potential of a given sample into account. Exactly this is a key part of his or her job, and it is fascinating that these people are often capable of tasting and judging up to 100 wines in a few hours time. My limit before I start questioning my own judgement is about 50 wines. And even for this I need to be super concentrated, and I experience a lot of muscle tension along the way. I have high regards for the professional tasters who are able to clear this hurdle easily.

How about wine bloggers? Do they need to be as objective about reviewing a wine as the wine critic?  Josh Hermsmeyer, also known as the Pinotblogger, recently announced that he would start a new way of reviewing wines. I am fascinated by his attempt to combine objective assessment with subjective preference. He obviously uses a very time consuming approach. So far he has succeeded in publishing some very intriguing reviews.

What about the consumer? There are many thousands of wine reviews on Snooth, Adegga and other similar sites. The conditions under which those reviews take place must vary massively. Yet, these sites are hugely successful and people use them as a resource.

I have published short reviews in the past, mainly from tasting events where I cannot spend more than 2 or 3 minutes per wine. Personally, I prefer my own notes where I have the time to become more intimate with the wines. They are honest, but more subjective. And they are still in the closet.

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About Markus Stolz

Over the last years, I have come to really appreciate Greek wines. There are many grape varieties that exist only in Greece and I have the good fortune of being able to try them all. I wish to share my enthusiasm with wine lovers around the world, who often limit themselves to maybe four red and four white grape varieties for most of their life.

  1. Lindsay MorrissNovember 16, 2009, 11:40 pm

    Hi Markus, great article and indeed very true for many wines. Just out of curiousity, what is your opinion of the Vinturi wine aerator?

    I’ve seen it used at a winery in Long Island, NY to open up its wines prior to a tasting. I also own one myself and have been nothing but impressed by the results (though I do agree that it does prevent you from experiencing how a wine evolves over time). Though most likely seen as being quite taboo to be used at professional tastings, the Vinturi and other “instant aerators” do succeed in opening up a wine at the moment it’s poured.

  2. elloinosNovember 16, 2009, 11:51 pm

    Hi Lindsay, how are you doing in Bordeaux? Looks like you are having a really good time. I have only heard/read about the Vinturi wine aerator, but have not tried it myself. Your comment makes me wonder if I should just order one…Keep us all updated via your blog about your adventures in France, I enjoy reading your updates!

  3. Lindsay MorrissNovember 17, 2009, 12:46 am

    Thanks, Markus. Life in Bordeaux is going well, but certainly busy (and classes are just one aspect—I finally managed to get myself registered in the French National Health care system, which is no small feat!!) Glad to read you’re enjoying the posts.

    As far as the Vinturi aerator goes, I’ve so far only seen it in the U.S. (the inventor is from San Diego), but who knows—maybe it’ll make its way to this side of the pond soon enough.

  4. Kostas KatsoulierisNovember 17, 2009, 9:15 pm

    The more I get into wine, the more I am fascinated by it. And you are right to describe wine as a living organism, it really is! It is fascinating how some wines are immediate and others are more subtle. I like to revisit wines a day after opening them to see what else they will reveal. I will never forget dismissing a bottle of Mercouri Antares (which had been given to me by a friend) upon opening it. I thought it had gone off, a rough smell of mould and damp came out of the bottle. Chance kept me from pouring the bottle away…an hour later the most wonderful gamey, woodland and fruit aromas had emerged. A red Nostos also surprised me when the initial rough rustic aromas where replaced by more subtle fruit and earthy smells. I am also always willing to give wines a second chance, for instance some wines I tried last year at Oinoteleia and Dionysia didn’t thrill me but when I tried them another time my viewpoint changed…

  5. elloinosNovember 17, 2009, 11:35 pm

    Kosta, I am glad you share a similar viewpoint. Out of sincere interest: Do you write up tasting notes on the wines you try? If so, do you write them immediately after the first impression, or do you allow to re-visit the wine several times? Thanks for sharing!

  6. Kostas KatsoulierisNovember 18, 2009, 7:18 am

    Markus, when trying wines at home I do write tasting notes. I write down first impressions and then add to them whenever I find something new. Whenever I can, I also write tasting notes at restaurants (although my friends roll their eyes at me). However sometimes I just don’t bother when a wine has been disappointing – I think more often than not it is not the wine at fault but the way it has been stored / served by the restaurant…

  7. elloinosNovember 18, 2009, 7:23 am

    Kosta, thanks very much for replying, glad to hear I am not the only one friends roll their eyes at ;)

  8. ugg bootsSeptember 15, 2010, 6:32 am

    Markus, when trying wines at home I do write tasting notes. I write down first impressions and then add to them