Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What wine haters get right/wrong

Lots of people hate wine: not the taste of it, or the alcoholic effect, but the concept.

A couple times a year, a blogger will string together some existing anti-wine research and produce a popular post, or in the most recent case, video. It's usually a 20-something male author, not surprisingly, for this is the U.S. demographic group least likely to drink wine.

The psychology behind these posts is interesting. I hate TV sitcoms, and I'm sure I'm not alone, but I don't usually feel the need to insult something other people enjoy. Behind every one of these anti-wine posts I've read an author intimidated by wine; an author so irritated by not being an expert that he attacks the concept of expertise.

There's not much point in a wine blogger like myself refuting these posts and videos. My audience is wine lovers; anybody who would read my blog in the first place doesn't need me to defend wine.

That said, these anti-wine posts get a lot of things right before reaching the wrong conclusion. If only there was a wine-loving editor to step in at the last minute, these posts would be quite useful for a non-enophile audience.

Here's what the anti-wine crowd gets right:

* All wine opinions and ratings are subjective. There is no such thing as an objective rating. Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant, arrogant or works for Wine Spectator.

* Wine professionals frequently disagree. Judge any wine competition and you will see this dozens of times a day.

* Wine professionals feel differently about the same wine on different days. Even Robert Parker admits this. Anyone who claims otherwise ... see above.

* Even if three wine professionals like a wine, that doesn't mean that you will. I don't know why this is surprising. Most people accept without question that film critics, or book critics, and the mass audience have different tastes. Nobody produces a video showing that their website's employees don't like the New York Times' 10 best books of 2014.

* If you're not accustomed to drinking expensive wines, you're not likely to like them at first. Cheap wines in the U.S. are designed and manufactured for casual wine drinkers: they're sweeter, fruitier and more approachable.

* Supermarket wines are all the same. They are the same 5 flavors in 100 different bottles. You're right! The wine industry is so busted. (Psst -- this is why wine lovers don't buy wine in supermarkets.)

Here's what the anti-wine crowd gets wrong:

* "Not just unknowable, wine is not worth knowing."

I feel sorry for people who believe this, but as long as they hold that opinion, it's not worth the effort to talk with them. Enophiles have usually had one epiphany wine. One day maybe somebody will pour these wine haters such a glass. I hope so for their sake.

* "Nobody can tell the difference between good wine and bad wine."

Actually, everybody can tell the difference, wine expert or not. The problem is that nobody agrees on what is good wine and bad wine (see above). Though people disagree, there are differences and they are easily discernable.

* "Wines that the majority likes taste better than wines the experts like."

Well, sure, if you're in the majority. The same is true for pop music, TV shows, etc.

* "Expensive wines are not better than cheap wines."

There's a kernel of truth to this, but it holds people back from finding their epiphany wine. If you don't spend $25 a bottle -- on the right bottle -- you'll never know what you're missing. I wish I could tell you what the right bottle is for you, but, please see the next point.

* "Wine experts are full of shit."

There's even more truth to this. I spend a lot of time with wine experts and we are an unbearable bunch of blowhards, this author included. Many of us are egotistical one-uppers. We're not content to let someone describe a wine they love; we have to name one we love better. 
Then there are sommeliers, who want you to blow $65 on some obscure wine that's tart enough to take the enamel off your teeth, and sneer at you if you like something popular, like Moscato or Napa Chardonnay. And they can't be bothered to spend any time talking with you if there's a big spender at another table to fawn over.
Look, I get why people don't like wine experts. I spend a lot of time with them, am one myself, and I get it. We're ignorant. We're arrogant. Some of us work for Wine Spectator.
But there's a reason why we are the way we are. The one thing we share is that we are all passionate about wine. Sometimes it's difficult for us to discuss it with people who aren't.
I try. Sitting next to civilians on airplanes, for example, I like to find out what real people think about wine. I try to answer questions. I try to be helpful. But I think people could be drinking better wine if they cared about it, and sometimes, despite my efforts to hide that, people can figure it out.
Then there's my writing. I like Santorini Assyrtiko: the good ones taste like acidity and seashells, and I think that's great. Is that going to be a wine somebody who doesn't drink much wine will like? Probably not. I like cold-climate, spicy Syrahs, and when I recommend Syrahs, I should keep in mind that maybe one American in 15 will like the same ones I do. But all I can do honestly is recommend the ones I like, because all wine criticism is subjective.
But when I'm being honest about these things, like right now, I'm not full of shit. Other wine writers,  ones I bicker with, who champion their favorite wine that I can't stand, they're not full of shit either. Neither are sommeliers who try to convince you to drink and enjoy a wine that they love, that you don't like at all. We might not have the same taste as you; we might not be speaking your language; we might convince you to spend money on a wine that you later regret.
But we are not full of shit. We are full of passion.
It's when one writes something completely cynical, something one knows to be untrue, that one is full of shit. I feel not guilty on that count now. Can every author of an anti-wine post say the same?

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.



Nice read... thank you

Unknown said...

I liked the article. I haven't seen the video to which you refer, but I have seen or read a ton of similar pieces.

On the one hand, I think most wine lovers really want to change those people's minds. It is hard to believe that someone couldn't enjoy this thing that we love. On the other hand, those Northern Rhone Syrahs are expensive enough already. More fans would just push up the price.

I would argue the point about grocery store wines. That is frequently true, but not always. I was in a Whole Foods in Santa Fe last week & picked up a Savennières that I hadn't been able to find in Northern California. I visit a lot of independent natural grocery stores in California & have been impressed with the selection & the wine knowledge of the wine buyers. Many grocery stores have generic selections, but that is also true of many liquor stores. It just makes me appreciate the good ones even more.

Unknown said...

Great honest writing and a lot of truth...nice to see this side of you!

Bob Henry said...

Say it ain't so, Joe . . . say it ain't so:

"I spend a lot of time with wine experts and we are an unbearable bunch of blowhards, THIS AUTHOR INCLUDED."

Jac said...

"Supermarket wines are all the same. They are the same 5 flavors in 100 different bottles"

I have been making a fair amount of supermarket wines for a couple of decades now, and it is part of my job to review what the competition does. You are wrong in stating that supermarket wines are all the same. Anybody curious on this can do what we do at work: grab six to eight different bottles of a given varietal at a given price point, sit down and compare.

When you pass by the frozen food section in the supermarket, you'll likely find a dozen different kinds of vanilla ice cream. Will you claim they all taste the same as well?

W. Blake Gray said...

Jac: Yes. When I buy ice cream, I go to an ice cream shop.

W. Blake Gray said...

Jac: Out of curiosity, since we don't know what company you work for and hopefully can answer honestly ... do you drink your own supermarket wines with dinner?