Wine tasting is bullshit. Here's Why," that's making the rounds of social media. Both of them apparently expected me to respond in some way.
Let me explain it in terms anyone can understand.
Wine is food. People have different opinions about food.
Just because somebody is an expert doesn't mean you will like the same food they do. Some people think the Big Mac is the apex of cuisine, and would happily eat one every meal. A restaurant critic could praise pristine sushi or spicy curry, but that wouldn't mean the Big Mac fan would like it.
If you want to say wine tasting is bullshit, it's only true if all criticism is bullshit. Just because a movie critic or music critic likes something doesn't mean you will. Movie critics hate plenty of popular films, just like restaurant critics won't praise Big Macs and wine critics don't drink Charles Shaw.
I can nitpick the exaggerations of Robert T. Gonzalez' post, and they start early. The ridiculous wine review he quotes in the graphic -- "Overall character is that of a sex-loaded scarlet ..." -- is apocryphal.
A wine blog, The Good Grape, posted something in 2010 saying that outlandish review, written by "a deadly serious taster," would be posted online soon. I googled the opening phrase and could not find the review anywhere online. This is not to say there are not terrible wine reviews: I've run some examples on my blog. But that particular review is fiction.
The wine "expert" Gonzalez quotes agreeing with his position, that wine tasting is bullshit, isn't the executive editor of Wine Spectator or some other high-level source. It's a guy who writes a blog called Another Wine Blog. I haven't read it. Maybe it's good. But as I showed above, you can find, or invent, anything you want on the Internet.
That said, I don't want to put too much effort into nitpicking Gonzalez' post, because much of the evidence he cites is true. Wines, like food, taste different at different times to different people. People are affected by knowing the prices of the wine. This shouldn't be news.
Wine is unpredictable. Different brands, different grapes, different vintages. It's a beverage, but it's not Coca-Cola. That's its nature. Some people are inherently uncomfortable with that. Wine makes them uneasy.
When people are uneasy, they seek validation: I'm doing the right thing. In the US, because we're so competitive, we can't be fully comfortable doing the right thing unless others are doing the wrong thing.
This is true of wine consumers at every level. People who spend $800 on Harlan Estate do so because they think that shows what connoisseurs they are, and like Robert Parker they mock the thin, underripe wines people favored by sommeliers. Some people who spend $2.50 on Charles Shaw do so because it's all they can afford, but others think it's the wisest purchase, and anyone spending more is not a smart shopper because there's no real difference in quality. The prices may be very different, but the desire for validation -- by dismissing others' choices as foolish -- is the same.
It's important to realize that for some people -- possibly including Gonzalez -- the differences between wines really are slight, for biological reasons. People do not have the same amount of taste buds. Some people are supertasters; they taste in neons. And at the other side of the bell curve of taste are non-tasters; they taste in shades of gray. I had a friend in Japan who bought 5 box lunches on Monday, stored them in the refrigerator, and ate one each workday. Most people would prefer a fresh lunch, but he couldn't taste the difference, so he shopped for convenience. He was a non-taster; his lunch strategy made sense for him.
If you are a non-taster, you should buy the cheapest wine, if you buy wine at all. Why spend more if you can't taste the difference? Perhaps 5% of the population are non-tasters, and they are the true target audience for Gonzalez' post.
For everyone else, all I can say is, sure, wine tasting is unpredictable. But that doesn't mean it's bullshit.
I just spent 3 days in Bratislava judging wines at the Concours Mondial, the world's largest wine competition. On my jury of 5 people from 5 countries we rarely agreed about a great wine. But we agreed on many bad wines. The wines we rated lowest would not be tolerated by anyone other than extreme non-tasters. You'd be happy if one of us was a gatekeeper who kept that wine off your dinner table.
But like I said, we disagreed about many good wines. My favorite wine of the competition I gave 97 points; another taster rated it in the mid-80s. Who would you believe? I don't know. You can throw up your hands and say "therefore wine tasting is bullshit," or you can accept uncertainty. You can accept that because wine is food, you may like doughnuts for breakfast while your neighbor likes mushroom omelets. That doesn't make breakfast-tasting bullshit.
Gonzalez' conclusion is "Screw the experts. Drink what tastes good/whatever you can afford. Or just have a beer – it's unequivocally better, anyway."
I can't argue with the first part. Yes, screw the experts; let me give you my hotel room number in Slovakia. But seriously, I don't like the same wines Robert Parker likes. Not that I want to screw him; he's not my type. But I can disregard him.
Drink what tastes good -- Brilliant advice! Spot on. Couldn't say it better.
Drink whatever you can afford -- Also very sensible. Combine the two and you've got a strategy
The problem is, within your price range, how do you find what's good, without relying on gatekeepers or experts? I taste maybe 5000 wines a year and when I go to a good restaurant, I let the sommelier choose the wine.
If you don't ask anyone's opinion whatsoever, you're at the mercy of marketers who are moving product based on the package, not the product. Nobody who sells wine stacked in cases to the ceiling of your supermarket cares what they taste like -- not the store, not the distributor, and often not even the producer, because they don't even put the winery's real name on it. All they care about is sales volume and profit margin. It's the Big Mac of wine.
If you're a non-taster, that's fine: stock up on the Big Mac on sale. But if not, you can either taste a bunch of wines to find the ones you like, or rely on an outside opinion like a critic, your friends on Facebook, your local wine shop or a sommelier. You can say "wine tasting is bullshit," but if you can tell the difference between a Whopper and a Big Mac, then you're bullshitting yourself.
There are people like Gonzalez who really can't deal with unpredictability, and would then say "have a beer," because Bud Light is always Bud Light.
I'm sorry to disappoint my non-wine-loving friends, who apparently wanted me to write some impassioned rebuttal defending wine tasting. What do you want me to say: wine is delicious and special and its very variability enhances my life nearly every night? Well, yeah, that's true for me. But if you'd rather have a Bud Light, how can I argue with you?
Fine! You're validated. Nobody has it any better than you. But please don't pass the Bud Light. Keep it in the hands where it's most appreciated.