Wine Absurdity of the Day: #1 and #2

I was on the phone earlier today with a wine writer. They needed a sample of a client’s wine for an article they were working on (I obliged, of course, understand the basic truth "if they can’t taste it, they can’t write about it).

In the course of our discussion that ranged from Terroir to Writing, we found ourselves bumped up against two "absurdities" that exist in the wine world. The recognition of both these absurdities rendered us both speechless for a moment as we considered them.

Both had to do with the idea of wine criticism: one from looking at wine reviewing from the critics perspective and one from the point of view of the consumer of wine criticism.

Absurdity #1:
There is that class of wine drinker who will change their opinion of a wine upon hearing that a respected wine critic thought opposite from them about the wine

Is this not completely absurd, yet uncomfortably depressing for its reality? Imagine possessing that most ugly combination of traits of 1) not trusting your own senses and 2) being so slavish in your devotion to another’s opinion over yours. With wine, this ugly combo is most often exhibited when the wine drinker brings back a unopened bottle or two of wine to their local wine shop, tells the clerk they did not like the one bottle already opened and asks for a refund. Yet, the clerk tells the consumer that this is odd since wine critic Paul Palatecleaner gave the wine 95 Points. All of a sudden, our wine drinker decides they should really keep their bottles.

This happens a lot, in retail establishments as well as restaurants. And sometimes you see it at tastings where the wines are offered "blind" with no hint of their source or their critical acceptance before you taste it. What we have here is a compulsion to be in the majority, or at least to be associated with the leader of the pack. You must ignore this person when you come across them in person. You really can’t be spending the precious moments you have in this life mixing with people so willing to sell their soul. It’s just ungrateful to do so.

Absurdity #2
The reality that people like Robert Parker, Jr. and Jim Laube spend their waking life knowing that somewhere someone, probably many, are thinking deeply about their nose and palate.

Personally, I have a hard time imagining what this must be like for the influential wine critics. It is, of course, an extension of the really strange fabric that makes up the bubble inside of which famous people exist. But with the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts, and Brad Pit, some of the fame-associted strangeness that surely exists in their life is actually lessened do to the fact that their fame provokes people to think deeply about a whole slew of things that connect to their lives. Yet with Parker and Laube, probably everyone thinking about them at this very moment is considering in one way or another the composition and inclinations of their palates…their nose, their tongue. That’s strange. And I don’t think I envy them either. I surely envy their talents and their craft. I just don’t think I’d react as well as they usually do to the pointed, probing comments about my mouth, nose, tongue and palate.

My discussion partner will get their wine in a few days. They’ll taste it. Possibly like it. Maybe like it a whole lot. And there is a chance they’ll feel compelled to write nice things about it. Then, they will move on to their next assignment and challenge, forgetting for the moment about this particular Pinot Noir. But I don’t think they, nor I, will forget about absurdity #1 or absurdity #2 any time soon. They remind both of us of the elements of pure "crazy" that exist in the wine industry.

One Response

  1. gene stein - December 7, 2005

    Re: Absurdity #1. It is a shame that so many ignore their own senses, but this doesn’t only happen with wine. Being in PR, you know how easily people are influenced. Many consumers are insecure about taste. That’s why “top 10” lists are so popular. Americans have been trained to ask what they should want, what logo or marque is “in”, rather than consult their own desire. In fact, according to Rene Girard, people are driven by mimetic desire, the desire to imitate, even to the point of wanting to imitate someone else’s desire, hence we have the Robert Parkers of the world.

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