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Let's Rid Ourselves of Wine Assumptions...and Wine Hypocrisy

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hello all, I’ve been quite busy for the past several weeks, but along the way, I’ve had a number of very interesting exchanges in regards to wine, and while I really wanted to slap the spit out of some people’s mouths, I realized that the true way to make headway was to start by trying to alleviate several assumptions about wine.  Note that I will in no way be able to address them all.

#1: All wines of a certain grape taste the same

There are a plethora of factors that affect the final taste of wine.  The first would simply be the grape itself, where it was grown and what it experienced (think of twins separated at birth and raised differently; does anyone remember The Count of Monte Cristo?).  This is where you look at things like terroire, the actual growing season (no two years of growing on the same area are exactly alike), other environmental factors and the harvesting of the grapes.

Next you have the actual production of the wine including everything up to the point of aging.  From the actual preparing of the juice as well as the fermentation used, a lot of the character of the wine can be shaped here.  Most important to note is that many grapes are blended with other grapes, meaning that a wine that says Chardonnay, and is produced in Napa Valley might have one to three other grapes making up 25% of the total mix.

This is followed by the final process of aging the wine.  What you age a wine in, and who long will also affect the taste of the wine.

The final piece that will affect that wine is the actual transport and storage.  During this time, wines can be improperly exposed to heat and/or sunlight and ruin.  And for the most part, most white wines should be consumed within three years of release.

#2: The same grape from two different places is not the same grape

This argument actually killed me one day whereas someone mused that a Sauvignon Blanc grown in Australia was different than one grown in California.  Wines to some degree are just like people, and outside of basic genetic differences from person to person, certain [races of] grapes will always be the same as long as you don’t introduce different DNA into them.  At this point, please refer to the first assumption.

#3: You don’t like wines made from [insert grape name here] grapes

Oh, this one is a killer.  Again, wines are like people, you might not realize you like one until you meet that one that you click with. 

I was at the auto mechanic the other day and this guy drives up with a GMC Avalanche.  He was covered in tattoos, had a ponytail and interesting piercings.  Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is some crazed racist biker that might be dealing meth.  I decided to just get back to my book, but he shortly asked me what I was reading.  Well, for the next two hours or so, we enjoyed some of the best conversation, and we had a lot in common; I do look forward to hanging out with him in the future.

The biggest mistake is that people have one bottle of wine that is a certain grape, and all of a sudden they are turned off at trying that grape again.  It could’ve been a bad bottle, an off year, or just a lousy offering.  I’ve tasted at least one hundred different Chardonnays, and within that, there has been a range of experiences, including disappointments and great triumphs [to my taste buds].

#4: The best wines come from [country name or viticultural area here] …or [such and such producer]

The reality is that many people are tourists by mentality, meaning that they only like to do something or have some experience because it makes them feel part of the crowd, if not having done something someone else would find envious.  It’s like asking someone what they did over the weekend, knowing that you just want to tell them what you did.  Some people want to identify with being fanciers of French wines, as is the French have some sort of ultimate power at producing the best wines (go see Bottle Shock).

Then there are the people that like to say things like they like Chilean wines, when the reality is that they have only tried a handful of different wines from that region, but since wine writers are now talking about wines from that country, they have to be identified with it.

But it goes even further, especially when people start saying that they really like a good Chianti, Burgundy or Bordeaux.  I laugh at this because most of the people uttering this have no idea what they’re really drinking as most of these wines are can be any combination of several grape varieties in differing amounts.  Imagine that you have three generations of women within a family, and that they all have access to the same amount of ingredients.  I am sure that if you asked them to all make the same dish, that each one would be different.

#5: Wines from [country name or producer name here] all taste like…

This next issue came from a conversation with someone that I’ve always known was an idiot, simply for their philosophies that they uttered which really showed you that they only had a one-track mind, and revealed that they weren’t really observant or analytical to begin with.  His statement was that all wines from Italy are bitter.  Oh, and he went on to say something about Spanish wines too.

Now, this made me less inclined to introduce him to Italian wines, but rather to March him into a restaurant in Little Italy or into any restaurant owned by goombas of mine, and ask him to repeat his absurdity.  I would then just sit back drinking a nice Amarone while watching him go down in flames, if not seeing the chef take a nice skillet to his noggin. 

This nincompoop has probably had no more than three wines from Italy, and probably never experienced the most elegant of them at all.

This is followed by people that drink one wine from a certain company and then either think that all wines by said company are equally as good, or equally as bad.  I don’t think that this requires much more to it.

#6: All sparkling wines are Champagne

They’re not; refer to my article titled "You call that champagne?!? It’s just bubbly" from July 2008.

#7: You should be tasting what the experts are tasting

They have the taste sensitivity of Bloodhounds and sharks, while you are simply a mutt.  Taste what you taste, and don’t try to taste what someone else is tasting.

#8: Because it costs so much, or this place/person is serving it, it must be good

I’ve had crappy wine at good restaurants, and have seen overpriced crappy wine in both retail and dining outlets.  Don’t get fooled.  Try some Rex Goliath.

#9: Rose/Blush wines are crap

Outside of the white zins, white merlots and what note, you'll actually find many great blush wines, including some sparkling ones as well.

#10: The wine expert, or other person speaking with an air of authority, actually is to be listened to

I always tell people that I’m a wino, to be interpreted as a wine vivant.  I am neither an expert, nor a sommelier, and never want to be one.  I am me, and while I can share what I know with you, your palate is probably different than mines, and I will tell you always to taste something for yourself.

That said, I have come across a number of people that people are quick to believe because one person speaks with an air of authority, especially those that might have taken either wine education courses or are certified sommeliers, that they actually know what they are talking about.  Besides the fact that I have heard so many speak that have only scratched the surface of the world of wine (and the fact that I have worked on many websites, including some pushing people with questionable bonafides), I am moved more to find out for myself than to accept someone else.  Oh, and I have heard some “sommeliers” saying some of the most incorrect and idiotic things.

Think about it, haven’t you come across a number of people in different positions that were trained, certified, or somehow else considered capable and in reality were the most ineffectual and counterproductive people that you have come across?  For you military guys, we normally refer to these people as officers. ;-)

Well, that’s it.  I’ve got out my griping for now.  But I do hate it when people tell me that they’re a fan of a certain wine and can’t even pronounce the name of the grape.  I will admit that I have done this myself; there, that’s me admitting my own hypocrisy.

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