The wines improved so much over 3-4 days that I almost went back and re-wrote my first notes. Almost. Ultimately I felt it made no sense to disavow what were legitimate impressions, honestly conveyed. And then there were the ones that grew less expressive, or got better and then retreated again. Challenging to a reviewer; even one who doesn’t use scores.
It’s not the first time this has happened. Wine can be a moving target. We all understand that. But what does it mean for the reviewer?
I have (at least) three responsibilities. One is to you, to report what I taste as faithfully as I am able, in prose I hope is graceful and entertaining. Another responsibility is to the vintner, to take his/her work seriously and pay abiding and respectful attention to the wines. And the third is to the wine itself, not as an “object” but as a being whom I would like to understand.
Leo Alzinger sent me ten wines, nine of which appear in this report. One was corked, annoyingly. Of those nine, all but one of them got better each day, and were quite a bit better by day-3. They then took a half-step backward on day-4. It’s still a “slight” vintage by the standards of this domain, but it is redeemed by fascinating and unusual expressions of these terroirs, and by structural dynamics I’ve never experienced with Leo’s wines.
In fulfilling my 2nd and 3rd obligations, though, I fail to fulfill the first of them, to be pertinent and useful to you. In a disarranged world I would tell you: “To enjoy these wines I suggest opening them, pouring a half-glass off, and keeping the leftovers for three or four days.” Right! Like anyone will do that. But – if you open and drink them right away, you’ll receive just 60% of their potential quality. You could decant, or even double decant, if you want to go to the trouble. Or you could just drink something else. Life’s hard enough as it is, and there are plenty of “obedient” wines that don’t need so much fussing over. Yet if you do undertake the effort to baby these wines, the rewards are suitable recompense, as long as you don’t presume on the usual Alzinger experience.
So I’ll leave the notes as I wrote them. They tell a story of each wine’s evolution from diffident muteness on first encounter, to appealing complexity with later samplings.
I am chillingly aware that I’d have misconceived these wines had I tasted them as a merchant , in one sitting, soon after the vintage, and with all manner of distractions to contend with. It almost became a cliché, how often I’d retaste wines in June (versus March or April) and find them significantly improved, and I’d wince at the faint praise I conveyed in my published notes. I am even more chillingly aware that most reviewers taste that way – one quick, fleeting exposure to a wine that’s in motion – and then they assign a goddamn score on a scale purporting to be precise. What a racket! But that train has left the station.
I have all the Smaragds still open, and will taste them at least once more, which will be the fifth pouring, and you know that hoary phrase Tasted twice, consistent notes? In its place I herewith submit TASTED SIX TIMES, NOTES ALL OVER THE PLACE.