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Identical strangers

Posted by Stephen Meuse  March 13, 2012 11:53 AM

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DSC00037-001.JPG A friend of a mischievous turn of mind brought several wines over the other night - all bagged up in brown paper bags and challenged me to taste and comment on them. 

Two were tasted as a pair. They were both clearly pinot and rather good -- but startlingly different.

We discussed them at some length and when at last the wines were unmasked I was very surprised to learn that they were in fact the very same wine: the 2010 Hamilton-Russell Pinot Noir from South Africa.

The sole difference between them - and thus presumably the sole source of their distinctive impressions -- was that at one had been resident in someone's cellar for several months and the other was part of a container that had arrived in the last week.

That wines subjected to the physical disturbances that necessarily accompany shipment can go to pieces before gradually settling down to be their old selves has long been known to importers and wholesalers, but I have to say I've never experienced anything quite as dramatic as this.  

Going to pieces is exactly what the more recent arrival had done -- acid, tannin, fruit all yammering separately like an orchestra tuning up - while the one that had been given some personal time seemed by contrast serene, composed, and tuneful.

One of the more interesting aspects of this is how much one can learn when things go wrong. It reminded me of a moment in one of the wine seminars I occasionally present for the Globe Insiders program when one of the bottles of wine I opened was egregiously corked.  Damn, this bottle is bad!" was my first thought; "How lucky, this bottle is bad!" was my next.  

That day, everyone left the seminar with a bit of knowledge I had never before been able to impart: how to identify a corky wine. 

Stephen Meuse can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com

Ellen Bhang

About By the Glass

Ellen Bhang writes about food and wine and reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe. Wine is the focus of her degree in the Gastronomy master's program at Boston University. She can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.

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Read more of Stephen Meuse's columns at www.bostonglobe.com

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