Falling Prey to Wine Rating Peer Pressure

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Try as we must, even as adult wine lovers we succumb to peer pressure. We like to think that peer pressure is something we outgrow. As parents we warn our teenagers how this “group think” can make them do something really stupid.

My favorite response to “but everyone at my school (fill in the blank)” is quite often, “If everyone decided to jump off a bridge would you have to do it too?” Knowing the oldest of our two teens, he probably would — but that’s because he’s fearless. A good trait for entrepreneurs, but not so much when it comes to daredevil stunts.

When men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice
I think she’ll know.

But do we really ever outgrow it? No, we just call it something else. “Social norming theory” and “trendy” are some of the more positive descriptors, “herd mentality” and “bandwagon” some of the less so.

Peer pressure can be positive, in that it can open up a world of new experiences and tastes. When I first met Joe, I hated the music he liked. To me it sounded harsh, thrashing, angry, defiant and way too “in your face.” Which is, of course, why he liked it. But the more I listened and understood the message, rather than simply listening to the voices, I began to appreciate the music.

Let’s Get Mikey!

Remember the old cereal commercial? Where two kids wouldn’t try the “healthy” cereal, so they put their younger brother up to it first? One older brother says to the other, “He won’t eat it, he hates everything!” And then when Mikey starts eating, his brothers know it must be good!

But suppose after Mikey decided he liked it, something someone else said made him change his mind.

During our wine-centric travels recently, I noted something that surprised me. The group was discussing wineries, winemakers and various styles of wine. The name of a winery came up, and one of our group said, “I really liked (particular wine).” Another, more seasoned veteran said something like, “Oh, I found that to be very pedestrian. I really didn’t care for that at all.” Suddenly the former advocate started back-pedaling. “Well, I didn’t think it was all that good. Not in comparison to (other highly-rated wine).” And I thought to myself, You’re kidding, right? Someone tells you that she doesn’t like what you like, and you suddenly recant?

Maybe it wasn’t as it seemed. The guy recanting wasn’t necessarily falling prey to peer pressure. Maybe he was fully confident in his ability to judge wines. Perhaps he just prefers harmony to dissonance. But being one who rarely raises the white flag immediately, it was a bit hard to fathom the sudden surrender.

But what appeared on the face of things, was that because a peer didn’t care for the wine he liked, our wine friend decided that perhaps he didn’t like it as well either.

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ‘em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
Call Alice
When she was just small…

He Likes It!

This is one of the reasons we at Another Wine Blog don’t rate wines and very rarely tell you about the wines we don’t like. We don’t give points, or grades, or stars, or thumbs up or down. While we do pay attention to Robert Parker, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and Stephen Tanzer, we figure most other ratings are pretty subjective. And we figure you have enough numbers and letters to think about without our adding to the mix. Besides, if we gave you a description of the wine that sounded like we liked it, but then gave it an average score, human nature says you’re going to look at the rating and ignore the rest. So we don’t tell you what you shouldn’t drink. I mean, seriously, we’re not your parents.

When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s “off with her head!”
Remember what the dormouse said:
“Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head” – *White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane

But we can give you this advice about wine. If you find something you like, by all means drink it. Do not give up something you truly enjoy just because someone else doesn’t like it. The whole reason we got into this gig is because too many people believe that you have to know a lot about wine before you drink it. Or that some secret club is trying to keep itself exclusive, by pretending only those who have studied it should tell those who haven’t what is good. That’s just nonsense.

So be bold. Be adventurous. Trust your own tastes. And don’t let anyone make you think something you like isn’t really good. It’s your money and your palate! Embrace it!

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

*With apologies to Jefferson Airplane for using the verses of White Rabbit out of order.

  • Winedog

    Does this mean you're going to start drinking Cougar Crack?

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Only if you post a great review of it on your blog ;)

  • http://www.vindulge.typepad.com Mary

    I love it and I agree. I don’t think all wine reviews, whether they be blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc, need to have ratings! I’m fine with those that do rate, but I certainly appreciate those who don’t. I like your philosophy on rating wines. I have a very similar perspective. I don’t rate wines on a number scale and rarely write about those I dislike. Instead, I do my best to describe a wine so folks can know by reading a description of the wine is for them. Let the reader figure out for themselves and gain confidence in their own opinions on wine. We don’t all need to have a rating system do we?!
    Cheers

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thanks for stopping by. I think so many different rating systems confuse the new wine drinker. Plus, rating systems are often just comparing one wine the rater is tasting to those she has tasted in the past. It's all too subjective for me. I say, just tell me if you like it and why you like it. Then I can taste it and form my own opinion :)

  • http://www.dscardworld.com R4DS

    Clearly, the most important aspect is that you enjoy the wine regardless of what anyone else thinks! lol. Ratings in themselves are ironically overrated.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      True. I know sometimes we have purchased a very highly rated wine and said “What's all the fuss about.” And the whole “less than 90 points” as a sales killer is just criminal!

  • http://www.1winedude.com 1winedude

    As shame, really – I've often had people tell me the equivalent of “I really like this one wine but I'm embarrassed to tell you about it because it's so cheap.”

    My reaction usually is “well, if yuo like it and it's cheap then congrats, you win!” :-)

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      I think sometimes the more expensive and complex wines we taste, the more we tend to prefer. I look back in some of my earlier “wine journals” at the labels and think, “you know we sure did spend a lot less on wine in those days!”

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      Amen! I only wish that my definition of cheap hadn't changed so much over the years.

      • 1winedude

        HA! Yeah, all of a sudden Cornerstone Howell Mtn. Cab is looking inexpensive, right?

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

          Now that you mention it…can I borrow $100?

  • http://twitter.com/vinotology Ben Simons

    First of all, I give you mad props for the use of Jefferson Airplane in the post. Loved it!

    You are absolutely right. I think this ties in well with some other posts that I've read recently about the intimidation factor in wine. I think a lot of people are afraid to have their own opinion, and then shrink from it when they hear a more experienced wine drinker disagree. It's unfortunate that people feel this way, but I can remember being like that when I was first getting into wine. I guess those of us who have mostly gotten over our fear should just do our best to encourage people to go with their palate, and not be afraid to like what they like.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      We just watched the Johnny Depp-as-Mad-Hatter version of Alice in Wonderland last weekend. So the song and the theme were stuck in my head! Thanks for stopping by!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      Great response, Ben. I have had people whose palates I respect rip wine that I like. At one time that would have influenced me because I figured that they must be right and that I was wrong. Now, while it may make me taste it again just to be sure, I just chalk it up to different tastes…or maybe even that they had a bad bottle. Who knows?

      Drink what you like, and always be on the look out for more things to like, and you'll never go wrong, imo.

  • Princess Alice2

    great read WineWonkette, I sometimes am pushed by peer pressure, mostly I do not conform, I have to be me…and eat and drink what I like. great article Amy, looking forward to next one. Alice

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thanks!

  • http://www.oc2seattle.wordpress.com Oc2seattle

    Wow! Maybe it's just me but that kind of comment would have spurred me on. Everyone is susceptible to some element of peer pressure, but I don't think I would backpedal to a “peer” like that! Great reminder to keep true to our own tastes.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thanks for your comment! I think it's easier if we don't see it is about “us” but about the wine. “Why”don't you like it? Is the thing I' usually ask, followed by “here's why I do.” Sometimes people say they don't like things because they haven't tried them in quite a while. Or again, because someone told them they shouldn't.

  • http://www.cgcw.com Charlie Olken

    It strikes me that all methods of expressing opinions about wine are rating systems. A binary system (yes or no) is the most simple, but it is a system. It has the shortcomings of failing to deal with most wines in the middle. If you are like me, you tend to like most wine–essentially because most wine is clean, well-made, palatable and does not give you a bellyache.

    But, that standard is too low because thousands, indeed, tens of thousands of wine meet that standard. That is why rating systems have existed for wine forever. It does not matter who gives them or what we call them, whether they are “crus” of a various levels or “Growths” or Chianti and Chianti Riserva, they are systems intended to suggest quality. Comparisons of price to quality, tells us something else, but price and “I like it” don’t tell us enough.

    There is no reason to fear rating systems from the most complex to the simplest, from binary to 100 points to the recent one million point system half facetiously proposed by one blog. These “ratings, whether three puffs or ten chopsticks or a thousand points of light, are nothing more than shorthand notations for how much we like a given wine. They take our words and modify them, but they do not substitute for our words. Otherwise a heavy, tannic Zinfandel and a light, zesty Zinfandel, both accorded a score of one star or 89 points or six chopsticks, would be the same. It is our words that make the difference, and we need to keep that in mind first and foremost. That is why “good words” define the review. Rating symbols only aid in the digestion of those words. No need to avoid a careful rating if it helps the reader.

    Thanks for the post. The overall advice fo thinking for oneself is really the key.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Thanks for your comment. If everyone used the exact same rating system, then I might find it more valuable. But many of the people giving “ratings” are just doing so based on their representative palates. And of course, the smaller the sample size of wine previously tasted, the less helpful the rating. I think the key is to look at ratings as just one aspect used to describe the wine. Unfortunately, the number is often given much more weight than the description.

  • passionate about wine

    I am a voracious reader of wine blogs, magazines, books etc. The reason I read so much is because there are so many different types, styles etc. of wine. I am not looking for a score because I have found that one person's high praise may not be to my taste. I just want more knowledge of wine and it gives me something to seek out at my local wine shops. I love trying new wines.
    BTW, I really love “White Rabbit”

  • passionate about wine

    I am a voracious reader of wine blogs, magazines, books etc. The reason I read so much is because there are so many different types, styles etc. of wine. I am not looking for a score because I have found that one person’s high praise may not be to my taste. I just want more knowledge of wine and it gives me something to seek out at my local wine shops. I love trying new wines.
    BTW, I really love “White Rabbit”