Wine Pleasures

Eric Asimov of the NY Times wrote in his blog “The Pour” an article titled “Wine’s Pleasures: Are They All In Your Head?“, about “what motivates the wine shopper”. The article (or I suppose really blog post) is the second most emailed article on the NY Times website today as of 7PM and has so far amassed 231 comments (and counting I’m sure).

The article begins by discussing some of the influencing factors for wine enjoyment, from varietal familiarity & easy to discern label to price & score. It mentions some studies that I have discussed in the past regarding consumers scientifically determined increased pleasure from wine that costs more. It alludes to a group of wine drinkers I first learned about in Napa from friends who worked in a tasting room called in the article “score-chasers” (known more crudely as “score-whores”). Asimov even reiterated something else I have mentioned encountering in the past, that being people who upon hearing of my involvement with wine confessing that “they don’t know anything about wine” – an indication of a population that is insecure in their wine proficiency – something I think is so silly. How many people admit that they know nothing about food. Cooking maybe, but appreciating it? They don’t need an expert to tell them whether to appreciate a good steak or not, they either do or don’t. And frankly who is to say what is a “good” steak? Is a rare steak better than a well done steak? Is Fillet Mignon better than a rib steak. We have our palates, we know what we like & we go for it. Why can’t the same apply for wine?

I have not yet read through the comments (and will only try to get through a few of the 230+) but the part of the piece that I found most poignant was the conclusion that wine appreciation has a lot to do with CONTEXT. Asimov sites two examples, the first the enjoyment that one gets from drinking a “little red wine” in a Tuscan village with a significant other versus drinking that same wine back in your home town. And the second of “buddies at a steakhouse” enjoying a California Cab & then not having the same level of enjoyment when drinking that same bottle with pasta at home.

While there is not (and I’m not sure there can be) any decisive conclusion on the matter, I fully concur with the thoughts conveyed by Asimov. A wine critic I am friendly with was once asked what “the best wine” is. Ever the politician the critic responded that far be it from him to determine what the best wine is – the best he can offer is the list of wines that received the highest scores from him. OR, he can tell of HIS PERSONAL favorite wine. Well, in the end he was not able to even tell what his favorite wine was, only the story surrounding it. Something about where he was, who he was with, what they enjoyed the wine with, etc. In other words, it was not all about the wine, it was all about the context.

There are so many messages that can be gleamed from this article. Trust your palate. Stop chasing status/expensive/high scoring wines. Certain wines will go better with certain foods. And I’m sure people can extrapolate whatever personal messages they want.

To me, the most important part of this piece is simply that people need to be open minded about things they put in their mouths. Not only are they the best one to determine if they are going to like something.   The setting, company… heck even place in their life will determine how good/bad that THING (wine, food, etc) is.  A rich red wine might be great with mom’s stew but terrible outside on a porch on a sunny day. A bottle of cheap bubbly might be great on the beach with friends but awful with your chocolate wedding cake. A slice of pizza could be “perfect” for that late night study break but horrendous the next morning.

Wine critics are great for educating, but that should be it.  Their corresponding scores should not be dictating what people drink. A pretty label, a high price, a popular producer – these play a role in determining purchasing decisions for people in all walks of life from home & car to clothing & wine.  That is wrong.  I am in no position to tell you how big your house should be or whether it is OK for you to spend $50K on a new car.  But I can tell you that only YOU should decide what to drink & decide if you like it or not.

Happy open minded & suggestion free wine tasting!


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