31 January 2011

Oenology: Allow me to wine a little

I love wine. I love the way a good wine smells, the way it looks, the way it tastes. Here's what I DON'T love about wine: wine snobs. For reasons that have never been apparent to me, wine draws pretension like honey draws flies. Why is that? Wine-making is a very down-to-earth endeavor with agrarian roots (so to speak). When was it hijacked by snobs with snifters?

The most annoying aspect is the way so many people pretend to experience wine. The human palette is in fact a fairly crude tool. Even people gifted with extraordinary palettes are limited to three, maybe four different tastes at a given swig. So it annoys the bejesus out of me when I hear people talking about "dark chocolate leather with a hint of raspberries and two...no, scratch that...three-day old emmental cheese from...Wisconsin...southern part of the state." OK, I am exaggerating. But not by much! Why is all that non-sense necessary? What's so wrong with just saying, to take sauvignon blanc as an example, "That's a great wine. Tastes like grapefruit."? Why pretend you also taste ten different kinds of passion fruit with buttery overtones and nutty undertones, when it's not physically possible for a human to make that many different taste distinctions?

I'm also not a fan of wine ratings. I think Robert Parker has done a huge disservice to wine, even if he has done a great service to wine-makers' wallets. What does it mean to say that a wine gets 93 v 92 v 80 v...whatever? To me, it's akin to saying that Munch's Scream is a 93 while Van Gogh's Starry Night is a 95. Huh? How do you put numbers on something so subjective? Not only is it impractical; it's demeaning. To suggest that something so subjective can be scored, is to suggest that it is not in fact subjective at all, that it is formulaic and measurable and that there is therefore some 'right' answer. How absurd! You might just as well say that great art can best be done using paint-by-numbers kits!

The most unnerving thing, however, is wine snobs who foolishly spend hundreds of dollars on wines, working under the delusion that more expensive = better. Mind you, there are some excellent wines in those price ranges. But it does not necessarily follow that a $200 bottle of wine will be twice as good as a $100 bottle of wine, or for that matter that it will be at all better than a $10 bottle of wine. And besides, where's the fun in getting the most expensive wine? Anyone with a fat enough wallet and a decent sommelier at his or her disposal can pair a wine with a food. But trying finding a solid $20 bottle of wine to go with that lamb...that takes some thought.

At the end of the day, here's what matters: enjoy what you drink, pretension and snobbery be damned. If you like white wine with steak, have white wine with steak.* If you want to put ice cubes in your zin, go for it. If you love that $15 bottle of pinot noir and think that $50 Chateauneuf-du-pape is swill, then drink that pinot with a smile. And when you hear some schmuck order the most expensive wine on the menu and go on about its delightful nose and hints of tinkleberries, just laugh and keep right on enjoying that $15 pinot.


*I don't recommend that particular experiment. It would be pretty gross, I'd think. But if you like it, go for it! And while Sauternes with steak might be a stretch, this does bring up another good piece of advice: ignore that non-sense about 'white wine for white meat, red wine for red meat'. There are many good reds that go with, say, chicken, for example.

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