I don’t particularly care for large tastings. I’ve been trained to do it, and have enough experience to be qualified to do it competently. But I don’t like doing it all that much. The same goes for tasting and evaluating wine on its own. I am actually quite good at it, but it is not something I relish doing.
It seems to me that these things are the equivalent of studying the words in a poem, totally devoid of context. So many of the facts about wine that my peers are fascinated by, and admittedly used to fascinate me, are akin to learning about Bukowski by creating a spreadsheet that details his consonant to vowel ratio.
Tasting through 100 or 200 wines may seem like an impressive task, but it is often more endurance than skill. The mouth goes dry. The nose becomes somewhat untrustworthy. I can’t imagine that many of us would be able to evaluate the first wine tasted consistent with their notes if it were placed back in the lineup near the end. In fact, I doubt that most people would even recognize that it had already been tasted.
When I, or any wine lover, evaluate a wine there are certain things that we are looking for. That’s what we’re trained to do. These things are important to the quality of the wine. Or are they?
Of course they are. But, are they important to the consumer? Not as much as we sometimes think, in my opinion. Wine and food have such a symbiotic relationship that to evaluate a wine in a foodless vacuum is virtually useless to most consumers.
Who hasn’t paired a spectacular wine with the wrong dish and diminished the enjoyment of both? Or, even more commonly in my experience, had a fairly pedestrian meal and an ok wine create magic by complementing each other in seemingly magic ways?
I know that many of my fellow writers are wine geeks. I am a geek in my own right, but my love of food and drink come from a much more experiential than a hard factual place. I don’t care all that much if the wine in my glass spent x amount of time in stainless steel or on oak. And I’m almost completely uninterested in the steak on my plate’s lineage.
I want the magic to happen. I want my eyes to close and roll back as cartoon fireworks go off in my head. Involuntary piggy noises should be coming from me and every other food and wine lover at the table.
That’s what this whole wine thing is for me. Magic! I love the magic and am always on the search for more of it. The 200 wine tastings? They are great as an immersion course for learning the ins and outs of a region or a certain style of wine. They also help you build skills that impress other wine geeks.
But there is no magic in them. None at all. They are Ricky Jay’s financial records, in lieu of seeing him in front of you performing.
This article was inspired by the amount of tasting that we are doing in Montpellier, France. However, it is not a criticism of the wonderful job that they are doing showing us all of the wonderful wines that the Languedoc has to offer. As a way to educate me, and to give me a sense of place that I associate with this region, the mass tastings are invaluable. But it got me to thinking about what value, if any, this type of tasting has to our readers and consumers in general.
The folks putting on this great event, that we are fortunate enough to be a part of, have also provided many other ways for us to learn about the wines of Languedoc, that do provide us with ways to provide value for you, our reader. More on that soon.
In the meantime, there are hundreds of wines waiting on me inside.