I’ve been doing a lot of fun reading recently (and also a fair amount of pontificating) about the trending controversies in the wine world; there are a lot of “what to look for in 2013″ lists scattered around the interwebs, and lots of geeky gauntlets being thrown down with a #wine hashtag.
We’ve got the “‘natural wine’ debate” (gauntlet vs. reply), which has taken on global dimensions, as well as the “battle of orange wine,” (gauntlet vs. reply) which is noticeably picking up steam. Not to mention the usual oak-bullies (who I can’t say I entirely disagree with) who claim once again that “the pendulum is swinging back in the right direction.”
While all of this is of real interest to me personally, what’s finally struck me is that all of these “disputes” are ultimately part of the same dialog; the tension in each example comes down to one fundamental dilemma. Just what is it, exactly, that makes wine “good?”
Is a wine good because it makes you think? Or just because it’s delicious? Does it satisfy you by meeting intellectual expectations, or simply by making you crave more?
The point struck home the other day when I was helping a friend of mine pick some wine out, in Santa Monica. I placed a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage in his hands – one which I’d never tasted – and he asked me a very valid question:
“If you’ve never tried it, why choose this one? How do you know it’s good?”
My response was more-or-less standard if you’ve ever asked me for wine advice: something along the lines of “the importer is solid, the price is right, and it should be pretty approachable, let’s check it out. If you hate it, I’ll get you back the $18.”
As I listened to myself this time, though, in the context of everything I’ve been reading and talking about, it was the should that got to me. To use the old proverb, was I teaching my friend to fish? Or just picking out a nice juicy Salmon for him to enjoy that evening?
The fact is, I knew what the wine was “supposed” to taste like – I’ve tried enough Syrah from the Rhone Valley over the years to have a general idea of what $20 should get you from Crozes Hermitage, and I also knew that the importer was reputable enough to generally offer a fair value. (We received nice confirmation of this when we noticed that it was also “wine of the month” at the shop, which suggested to me that somebody there liked it enough to commit to several cases). I knew that – assuming the wine met my expectations – my friends would enjoy it. (Which they did).
Now, this example may not be entirely fair – I’ve known these people for years and we’ve shared a fair amount of wine together. I consider it my duty to pay attention to what my friends like (or don’t); body language tells a lot, even when they’re too shy to vocally disagree with me. But for the sake of argument, let’s say the wine was nothing like I expected, and they loved it. Or better yet, what if it was exactly what I was looking forward to, and it turned out to be the last thing they would ever want to drink? They might hate about it the same things which I love.
Besides being a cry for “wine democracy,” I suppose the point here is the same as it always is: “know thyself.” When you really love a bottle, speak up. When you hate it, speak up! (But be nice). We can always agree to disagree.