With Wine, Emotion Matters

Wine enthusiasts are always looking for an experience that’s completely arresting — a wine that stops you in your tracks, makes the room go silent, and just pulls you into the glass.

Sometimes, those wines are expensive — perhaps opened at an extravagant wine dinner where everyone brings a bottle to impress. Other times, they’re ordered at a restaurant when one hands the list back to the sommelier, requests an adventure, and is blown away by the results.

I’m electrified when these experiences happen with wines made by friends. I’m hardly alone in this sentiment.

A few weeks ago, Steve Matthiasson, a top vineyard consultant in Napa Valley and one of Food & Wine Magazine’s 2012 Winemakers of the Year, was asked about the wines that most excite him.

“Wines made by friends are number one,” he declared. “If it’s made by a friend, it tastes better.”

I first met Steve and his wife last February over lunch at their small vineyard in Napa. I sought them out after enjoying their 2010 white blend at a restaurant in San Francisco, and after our lunch together, I became an evangelist for their wines.

The Matthiasson’s entire portfolio is absolutely stunning. But it’d be disingenuous to claim that emotion doesn’t play a role in my appreciation for their wines. The fact is, there’s an emotional component to wine appreciation – and that shouldn’t be ignored.

Emotion is why wines almost always taste better at a winery than they do at home. It’s why enjoying a special bottle with a special someone is more meaningful than enjoying it alone. It’s why a sommelier’s recommendation is almost always a hit, especially if her passion is palpable.

Just as emotion can make a wine taste better, it can also make a wine taste worse.

In late August, one of Italy’s most famous winemakers, Fulvio Bressan, penned a racist tirade on Facebook against his nation’s first black government minister.

Outrage came quickly. Within days, the Italian reviewer at The Wine Advocate, the world’s most influential wine guide, announced that she would omit Bressan’s wines from future tastings.

That decision, while laudable, wasn’t necessarily needed — the racist comments spread far and wide across the world of wine. As wine writer Alder Yarrow wrote, “Bressan’s wines will never taste the same again.” One can safely assume that most consumers agree with Yarrow.

Over Labor Day weekend, one of my closest friends came to visit from Los Angeles with his fiancée. They brought me a bottle of Grenache from Beckmen Vineyards, a small winery located in Santa Barbara County.

The reason? They visited Beckmen on their third date — and enjoyed a bottle of the winery’s Grenache over lunch. Once my friend realized that he had met the girl he was going to marry, he promptly purchased several cases of the wine.

How that Grenache tastes to others is irrelevant. Every time they open a bottle, they’ll remember the butterflies they felt for one another on their third date. And it will always taste delicious.