Re-watching, re-reading and re-tasting
I've just finished re-watching season two of The Wire. More than ten years after I first saw it, it has lost none of its brilliance. The slow-burning, elaborate storylines, the harsh realism of the characters and locations, and perhaps most importantly, the outstanding writing all combine to make the show as compelling and enthralling as ever.
I would go further, in fact, and say The Wire is among the few television shows that can bear comparison to great literature. Like all works of creative brilliance, they have something to offer their audience with every repeat visit.
Wine is also celebrated for this. The best bottles change over time and therefore potentially offer something different with every repeated taste. There might be something you didn't appreciate the first time round, or it could be a new characteristic that has developed through bottle maturation. Understanding how fine wine evolves is an important part of working in the industry.
Unfortunately, opportunities to do this are restricted by high prices. Unlike film, music, books or art galleries, the cost of access to the best examples of wine is very often prohibitive. While there are opportunities to taste back vintages at trade tastings, this isn't the same as buying a case and experiencing its evolution over many years. The result is that professionals often have a far less complete experience of mature fine wine than engaged consumers.
It is also beneficial to re-taste wine when first assessing it. So many variables can affect how we perceive wine on a given day - bottle variation, palate fatigue, glassware, etc - that making a balanced judgement on a single, brief taste is potentially very flawed.
This recently happened to me with Château Figeac 2014. When I tasted it at the Union des Grands Crus tasting in October, I found it over-tannic and bitter. Because it was an open-label tasting, I mentioned my surprise, considering the reputation of the producer; the château subsequently sent me a second bottle to re-taste. Had it been a blind tasting, I would probably have dismissed the wine as poor quality without a second thought. Similarly, at the International Wine Challenge, all rejected wines are re-tasted (still blind) to ensure that no rash decisions have been made.
It is human nature to seek out the new. Discovering and reporting on the latest vintage, cuvée or vintage is an inevitable preoccupation for any line of business, whether you're writing about wine or slinging heroin in Baltimore. Alongside this, the fact that fine wine has become so expensive (especially for the most prestigious older vintages), means that re-tasting the world's great bottles becomes less and less feasible for many of us.
Revisiting fine wine is a valuable, informative and above all hugely enjoyable experience. It's a great shame that such opportunities are increasingly rare.