Better wine

September 14th, 2009

A sweet gift.

A sweet gift.

As I was growing up in Poland, wine was not a focal point of social life or the dinner table. There was some Russian (Armenian, really) demi-sec sparkling wines, Hungarian Tokaj and some Bulgarian, Romanian and Yugoslavian wines. I was too young to drink them, so I only have my immediate family’s preferences to use as a barometer of regional preferences.

My barometer underwent a serious calibration on Labor Day.

I prepared two wines to pour with the dinner of grilled fillet mignon: an Aglianico del Vulture and a “semi-dry” (Kindzmarauli) Georgian Saperavi sent to me by a friend living in Chicago.

I think I inherited my “palate” from my mother. She has a sharp sense of smell and is able to assess the structure of a wine well. My father says he likes “dense” wines and his meaning in the use of that word is best defined by the wines he pours: I find them clumsy, overripe, low acid, high alcohol wines that resemble prune and raisin purée. My brother drinks wine for the alcohol. Grandma likes anything sweet – and I have a theory why. All in all, my family responds to the first impression of a wine and they do not seek out nuances or layers, structure or interesting textures.

I had no problem emptying the decanter of Aglianico. You can tell how much people like a wine by how often you refill their glass. As we ate, I talked about the background of the grape and the particular wine. This was not to pontificate or lecture, but to help my family understand the wine which will someday come from our vineyard. I tried to give them a sense of how our Aglianico would likely be different – owing to the fact that it is a different clone and we are growing it in a warmer region.

While I had no complaints about an admittedly tannic and grippy wine which had been decanted for over an hour, my parents and grandmother raved about the Saperavi. It was deep, inky crimson-red, with aromas of blackberries and prunes (as in fresh Sugar Plums, not the dried stuff). In the mouth, these were accompanied by a pleasant acidity balanced by lots of sweetness. This was not in the late harvest, botrytized dessert wine sense but in the soft drink-without-carbonation sense. Though fairly tannic, it did not do for the steak what the Aglianico did.

The general consensus, was that the Saperavi was a “better wine”. Yes, they agreed that the Aglianico went better with the steak, but they insisted the Saperavi was “better”. This Kindzmarauli style is undeniably enjoyable. If I were far better versed with this variety, region and style, I could make a statement regarding it’s quality relative to some standard or benchmark. But as this is the only wine of its kind I’ve had, I can’t say anything beyond the fact that it was pleasant smelling, had good structure, was very distinctly sweet and was nice to sip, went well with the lava cake but not so much with the steak.

The idea of “good wine” is erroneously rooted in personal enjoyment and preference for many consumers (and, unfortunately, commentators). Personal preference is fine, but such a subjective judgment is prone to limitations of experience or knowledge. Uninformed enjoyment is also fine, but it’s like jazz or abstract installation art – liking them is not the same as “getting” them.


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3 Responses to “Better wine”

  1. Dylan Says:

    It must be tough to be the only one in your family willing to breakdown a wine and look at it beyond the initial taste. However, I come from a firm belief that as long as you’re inviting, over demanding, you will eventually win people to look at your side. I just can’t promise how soon “eventually” would be.

  2. Thomas Pellechia Says:


    With my extended family (my wife and I each come from large plots of people), I’ve been waiting for “eventually” forever!

  3. Andrzej Daszkiewicz Says:

    Arthur, your Saperavi was from a pretty modern producer (French consultant, new oak etc.) and from a vintage marked by some substantial rains during the harvest, so it is not a typical Kindzmarauli, but rather smoothed out and slightly diluted version for the international market. Try to get a hold on a bottle of dry Saperavi, like Mukuzani or Satrapezo from the same producer, I am sure they both would appeal much more to your taste.