Our second rule of Reverse Wine Snobbery: Drink what you like (and how to avoid the sweaty horse problem).
Today we’re detailing Tenet #2 (drink what you like) in our Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery. (Find Tenet #1 here.) And while it seems like this one should be pretty obvious, read on to find out just how you might be sabotaging your own enjoyment of wine!
Since we’re open-minded wine drinkers, one of our primary rules of wine tasting is to drink what you like. If you don’t like red wines, no problem. If you don’t like dry wines, don’t drink them. Why would anyone in his or her right mind drink or eat something intended to be pleasurable if they don’t like it? We’re not talking about vegetables here! If syrupy, sugary sweet Moscato with an ice cube is your thing, go to town. Likewise if it is vintage Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Many wine drinkers undermine their own tastes by listening to experts. Not to undercut anyone’s credibility, but the fact is those so-called “experts” are simply not very reliable. Recently retired statistics professor turned winery owner Robert Hodgson did a revealing study on the judges at the California State Fair.
Since wine judges at the CA State Fair don’t know which wine is which when they are tasting them, Mr. Hodgson convinced the wine competition organizers to let him re-insert the same wine back into the tasting lineups to see if the judges’ scores would be consistent. The result was wildly different scores for the same wine when tasted on different occasions.
Mr. Hodgson then turned his attention to wine competitions in general and found that the awarding of gold medals was statistically a random process! Virtually all wines that receive a gold medal at one competition received no medals at other competitions: “One winery entered 14 competitions and got no awards in 13 of them, and got a gold medal in the 14th. Guess what’s on the label of that wine? Gold medal winner.”
This brings up a very important point. Many people would be surprised to know that at most of these wine competitions and in many wine reviews for the big magazines, dozens and dozens of wines are tasted at a time. Often each wine is only given a few sips. (And we’re using the word “sip” loosely here because usually the wine is sniffed and then swirled around in the reviewer’s mouth before being spit out.) It’s no wonder then that these judges’ scores are inconsistent! I’m sure a wine does taste different when it is the first wine tasted versus when it is the twenty-fifth.
This is also the reason why all of my reviews are done based on tasting wine normally – like an average person would. The wine is tasted over a period of a couple hours, often with and without food and then rechecked the next day to see how it held up. After all, if you’re like my wife and me, it often takes two days to go through a whole bottle of wine. That means it is very helpful to know if that wine you are buying is going to taste just as good on day two as it did when it was first opened. If not, then you’ve just wasted half your money.
Richard Quandt, the editor of the Journal of Wine Economics, said, “Nobody can even identify, with certainty, all the ingredients, all the molecules, in a glass of wine (or beer or gin or whatever). Nobody understands, exactly, why booze tastes the way it does, and why people like it. And nobody understands, exactly, how human beings actually taste things.”
Scores and points mean nothing if your tastes are different than whoever is giving those scores and points. Wine is not an objective thing – we all taste and smell differently. We have different preferences based on a myriad of different reasons. For example, I can’t stand cigarette smoke; it drives me crazy. Yet, I love the smell of a good cigar because my grandpa smoked cigars and as a little kid I used to love hanging out in the garage talking to him as he puffed.
Wine reviews are great if you can find someone who has similar tastes. If not, they’re just irrelevant and lead to sabotaging your own enjoyment of wine, often by chasing wines with high scores. I’ll close with a great example of just what I’m talking about.
I recently came across a review from a major wine magazine that described a wine as having “a note of just-run horse and saddle.” Seriously? It smells like sweaty horse? And the average person is supposed to know what horse sweat smells like? Funny thing is they actually liked the wine (although I guess they are following our rule to drink what you like)! But seriously, if sweaty horse doesn’t sound appealing to you then you probably don’t want to follow this critic’s recommendations, no matter how high the score.
Up Next…Tenet #3: Experiment With New Wines.
Find our complete Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery in summary form here with links to each as they are detailed.