Taste Wines For Yourself Before Judging

Staff Writer
An equal-opportunity wine drinker on forming your own opinion

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Over the past 40 years or so, I have consumed, tasted, and written about tens of thousands of different wines. And the number may well be even higher — I have never counted! The wines cover everything from A to Z (think albariño to zinfandel) and vary in cost from thousands and tens of thousands of dollars per bottle to a few dollars a bottle (think Romanée Conti to Two Buck Chuck). I have found phenomenal wines, great wines, really good wines, good wines, not so good wines, bad wines, fake wines, and really disgusting wines. But across this range of wines and experiences, what I have also found is that I like a lot of different wines for different reasons. I like certain wines with certain foods and I like other wines based the occasion, what I am doing, and even the weather. This means, in my mind, that I am an equal opportunity wine drinker.

I never stop trying new wines and don’t ever intend to, even though I am fortunate enough to have accumulated a large wine cellar with more wines than I could drink in a lifetime (or two). All this has allowed me to develop my palate and establish criteria for wines that I really like to drink. These include: balance, flavor, complexity and purity. What I don’t like are wines that are heavy, overly alcoholic, overly manipulated, and polar opposites of what I like in wine. That said, the best wines I have ever experienced are wines with bottle age from a few years to tens of years for great white wines such as white Burgundy and champagne, and decades of bottle age for the great red wines such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, and California cabernet sauvignon. But there are times when I really like a young red, white, or rosé wine (think Beaujolais, Sancerre, albariño, riesling, and grüner veltliner, to name a few, and a wide variety of rosés, particularly those from France).

Earlier this year I was in Hawaii and visited a Costco. Many of the wines they sell offer good value and their prices on all wines, like all the other products they sell, are generally lower that those for the same wine at most places.

Today Costco is the largest retailer of wines in America. However, they are selling wines in a completely different way than they sell other products. They use big numbers and there are no numbers for anything else in the store except wine. In the Hawaii store they have even set up a chart explaining the big numbers scoring system and identifying the number by one of three different publication sources that they use. And there is nothing much said about individual wines, mostly just a number. It is very strange and seems totally contrary to the way Costco has sold other products for decades. I, for one, find the numbers worthless. They might as well start putting the numbers on toilet paper as well as wine. After all, that was the analogy the head Costco wine buyer made a few years ago that was referenced in my article Do Wine and Toilet Paper Have Anything In Common? Back then wine was just another product. Now Costco seems to have concluded that, unlike anything else in the store, wine needs a number.

But I suppose Americans are more insecure about wine than they are toilet paper. Many American consumers still think a number for wine can express what they should like. Interesting, since this is the only product that is sold this way. In fact, in other areas of the world where wine making and wine drinking have been part of the culture for hundreds of years, this numbers nonsense is not very important. But in emerging areas like China, people are being seduced and sucked into the bogus idea of determining the quality of a wine by points. So while the trend seems to have peaked in America, China is climbing into the driver’s seat. I say more power to them. And, I hope they enjoy the ride as they ultimately will hit a wall.

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For the inescapable conclusion in drinking and enjoying wine is that you have to taste for yourself and form your own opinions. Do not rely on numbers that have no meaning other that the taste of a person (often unknown) of a wine tasted or consumed in a variety of different ways that may or may not relate to how you will be drinking the wine. But, what is important, is to ask what is in the wine you are drinking. And, seek advice from wine merchants and wine drinkers whose opinions you trust. Hopefully the latter will include theUnderground where our total focus is on the consumer and providing information that can guide and educate.  But, at the end of the day, always remember the Underground motto – Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink!