#MWWC: A tale of cloak and dagger

A while ago I was asked to enter the #MWWC (Monthly Wine Writing Challenge).

Each month a theme is posted by the previous month’s winner – in this case The Drunken Cyclist. And honestly, I haven’t entered yet because the themes didn’t really grab me. I am just not a writer (or a person for that matter) who sits down and ponders about what to say, I’m much more immediate:  I think of it and say it.

This month’s theme was Mystery and as soon as I saw it an idea sprung to mind. Here it is:


Discovering wine: A tale of cloak and dagger

Wine is a mystery.

Hang on, I was supposed to be the self proclaimed wine ninja, right? So what happened? Did my ninja powers evade me? Did someone steal them during the night?

Not quite, it’s just that wine is quite a mysterious and elusive creature. It hides itself behind a veil of obscurity, giving you glimpses beyond the glass, but always holding something back until you perform the final reveal.

The fact of the matter is that not even we obsessive winos know it all, and we’ve been keeping a pretty big secret too.

Let’s just hold our hands up and say it:                                                               

We can’t tell you exactly what your wine will taste like.

What’s that?

Shocked silence?

Gasps of “I knew it!”

Perhaps, the self righteous screeches of “I TOLD YOU IT WAS ALL A LOAD OF BOLLOCKS!”

I know and I am sorry, but we haven’t been completely leading you on.

Let me assure you that it isn’t all bollocks, no matter what you may be inclined to think. What we have done over the years is tasted a lot of wine (yes, a hard job but someone has to do it). Along the way a lot of tasting notes will have been written, a lot of studying will have been done and we will have isolated aromas and memorised what various wine styles are like.

Now when presented with a bottle of wine, we can taste it and rather than just predict it will simply taste like wine, we can start to make more of an educated guess…

For example:

If your wine is a Cote-Rotie we can tell you that it is most likely to have been made from Syrah with a dash of co-fermented Viognier to give it some lift. We can tell you that it should generally have characteristics of bramble fruits such as blackberry, a hint of white pepper, some oak and perhaps even a slightly floral edge reminiscent of violets. But we cannot tell you exactly what your wine will taste like.

If it is a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, then we can tell you it will be aromatic to the point of pungency. It will likely have aromas of freshly cut grass, gooseberry and tropical fruits like pineapple, passion fruit and mango. It could even have notes of elderflower and grapefruit. But we can’t tell you exactly what your wine will taste like.

Likewise a Clare Valley Riesling will probably have a searingly high acidity, distinctive lime and even perhaps a note of kerosene or petrol. But we still won’t be able to tell you what your wine will taste like.

Why not?

Well, for a multitude of reasons, but the main one is simple. Along with some of the most well-respected and revered wine writers and palates on the planet, I am not omnipotent. Neither am I a fortune teller. It is simply impossible to know exactly what your wine will taste like until you pop that cork.

For one it could be faulty in some way, thus impairing the taste. If this is the case it might not even smell like wine anymore!

Secondly, wine is notoriously inconsistent. Even if I have tasted the same wine before it can still vary. In fact, as part of my job I taste the same wines on a regular basis and it can be the same blend, the same vintage, the same winemaker; to all intents and purposes the same wine. And yet not taste the same.   It’s something that both my colleagues and I reflect on a daily basis; sometimes a wine will taste particularly good and sometimes not so great.

Why the variation?

It’s impossible to pin down for certain, but one likely reason is that there are so many influencing factors from the point of conception to consumption. If you take a step back to possible consider the variations in climate, weather, viticultural practices, production methods, storage pre and post bottling then you begin to understand why wines will never taste like a carbon copy of one another.

This also poses other questions: what if it is not the wine that changes, but the taster’s palate?

And what about age? As wine ages the flavours will no doubt develop, but there is no way of predicting exactly how a wine will make it through this aging process.  Like anything we can have a jolly good guess but that’s all it will be.

Certain people even believe that the difference between one bottle of the same wine to the next can simply depend on when you open it. Not in terms of what year, but which day of the month.

Following the lunar cycles, the Biodynamic calendar has long been thought to influence how we taste our wine. Tasting on a fruit or flower day can let your wine’s fruity nature shine. Compare this to a root or leaf day when all of those other more impenetrable, and for many, less desirable flavours come to the fore. It is just a theory but one that many, winemakers included, are slowly coming around to.

It all boils down to the fact that wine is subjective. Different people have different palates and they will all get different things from a wine. Taking this into account, we are never going to be able to accurately predict what any one wine will taste like for any one particular person. 

Wine is a mystery, but its fragile and ever-evolving nature is why so many of us love it so much. We all like a little bit of cloak and dagger, it keeps us on our toes – and it certainly gives wine its edge.


P.S. I’ve had quite a few comments from followers of my former wordpress blog, that since I moved home they have lost my feed. To solve the problem I have recently launched a facebook page so you can follow my blog more easily. Head over here to ‘like’ it:


Alternatively you can follow my updates via Twitter. Thanks for reading!


17 thoughts on “#MWWC: A tale of cloak and dagger

  1. Pingback: #MWWC: A tale of cloak and dagger | mwwcblog

  2. Great post Julia! Thanks for writing! (By the way, do you personally believe all the fruit day/root day stuff? In my mind, I think biodynamics is a good thing, but could do without all the mysticism.) I have posted a link to this article on the “official” MWWCBlog (mwwcblog.wordpress.com) and will be posting an update on thedrunkencyclist.com as well. Thanks again for participating!

    • Thanks Jeff!
      I’m not sure either way on Biodynamic, but it would nicely explain why wines taste different on different days though! I’ve met winemakers who swear blind by it, and they’re the experts so who am I to argue 😉

  3. Pingback: Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6—Update | the drunken cyclist

  4. Very enjoyable post. And so true- wines and wine tasting can be subjective. Whether you believe it or not, Biodynamics certainly fits this month’s theme. I’ve often wondered if there might not be a biochemical explanation for why there can be differing experiences had by folks drinking the same bottle of wine. We all have the same basic biochemical makeup, of course, but there must be subtle differences in the levels of constituent chemicals between individuals.

    • Absolutely – and I’m sure there is. The problem is we don’t understand enough about how our sense of taste works yet!

      Tim Hanni’s work on profiling tasters depending on their sensitivities to different compounds, particularly bitterness, is probably the most conclusive evidence we have so far I reckon…

  5. Pingback: Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6—Final Update | the drunken cyclist

  6. Pingback: MWWC#6 – Two Wines, Three Mysteries | Flora's Table

  7. Pingback: Two Wines, Three Mysteries | Clicks & Corks

  8. Pingback: Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6 (Mystery)–Reminder to Vote! | the drunken cyclist

Leave a Reply