As the saying goes, “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Right now, you’re probably wondering what the wine angle is on that title and opening line. Well, there is one — as you might suspect. What to do when a wine we have loved, or a winery that is one of our favorites, all of a sudden doesn’t taste the same? Your first thought is either, ‘have I changed,’ or ‘has the winery changed?’ The short answer is that it could be either or both. But still the question of what to do?
The reasons for a change in the way each of us perceives a wine can be vast. It could be a tough vintage. No winemaker is perfect and with the challenges of nature year in and year out every winery and every producer have a shot at pulling a clunker in any given year.
Winemakers also come and go, with the exception of the small winemaker owned properties, wineries will see turn over in their production staff from time to time. Even if the head winemaker stays in place, the vital (and I do mean vital) roles of assistant winemaker, cellar master and viticulturist (even further down the “chain of command”) will turnover, and all have the potential of changing what you find in your glass.
For wineries that do not own their own vineyards, the source of their wine grapes can also evolve. The best and most focused wineries that purchase wine grapes will have long term contracts with their growers, but even for those winemakers, fruit sources can come and go as the focus of the farmer changes and prices go up. For smaller wineries, sometimes the fruit just becomes unaffordable and they are forced to let some of their prized vineyards go.
At times, the strategic focus of the winery as a whole, or how they approach certain varietals, can shift in response to business decisions that are required. There was a Sauvignon Blanc that we loved many years ago when we lived in Sonoma County. One vintage, the winery started blending in Semillon and aging the wine briefly in oak barrels. We were saddened by this; we loved the wine just the way it was and were forced to move on.
Finally, each of our palates will change over time. What we used to love in a wine, a winery or a varietal all of a sudden just doesn’t taste quite the same. We start reaching for those bottles less and less as our taste moves on to the next favorite.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to avoid just ridding ourselves of our go-to bottlings and producers. First ask the winery. If you notice one of your favorite varietals from a specific producer not being as good to you, contact the winery and ask questions like have you changed the winemaking standard on this wine, what vintage did you put that change in place, was it temporary to adjust to what that growing year had to offer, or do you anticipate it being a permanent change. If you are getting that bottle from a specific shop, ask the owner or employees — they may know as well. Also, be open to revisiting your former favorite when it again changes vintage. You may find it to be back to your liking.
If you find that everything from a specific winery that you previously loved has become less appealing, do some research or ask your favorite wine professional if there was a change in the ownership or winemaking or growing team. Changes like winemaker or any of the assistants we talked of previously can have a huge impact on what goes in the bottle. If this has happened again, give the wines another try in a vintage or two. No winery is going to want to lose a big part of their customers because of a drop in quality due to personnel changes, so the wines may come back around.
If you feel you have a palate evolution underway, start paying attention to what tastes good in wines from multiple producers. If you have been a fan of California Chardonnay, are they all now less appealing? Or is it just your favorite winery’s product that has lost its luster? Do you all of a sudden find that all full-bodied, tannic reds are slipping to the bottom of your list and all of a sudden you are buying Pinot Noir? Then it is likely your palate is shifting. If this is the case, still go back in a couple of years, or at the next seasonal change you may find that wines you previously loved are tasting better again.
The great Kermit Lynch once said, “Wine is not marriage. It’s OK to move around from time to time.” This is so true and a perfect adage to keep in mind to avoid throwing away a winery, varietal or bottling when you find what you previously loved just doesn’t taste quite as good.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.