The video below is something I usually take exception with: pouring wine for people who know little or nothing about the stuff and asking for their opinions. In this case, however, it’s what Martha would call “A Good Thing”.
There are no claims, here, about the wines’ qualities or flavors. No judgment except, “Which one do you like best?” Nineteen staffers at this website were asked to taste; people of varying levels of knowledge. In short: a typical cross-section of Americans that you’d get if you rounded up 19 folks at random as they shop at your local big wine store.
The relationship between wine price and quality is called, by us wine-geek tradespeople, “QPR” – Quality to Price Ratio. It’s a verbal shorthand that wine industry people use to convey the quality of a certain wine. “It’s a great little QPR wine,” my rep will say, and that lets me know that, in his or her opinion, it costs less than it could. Use this: walk into your local wine shop and say, “I’m looking for good QPR wine” but beware: a wine that’s $200 and could cost $300 is also a good QPR wine. It just means that it’s better than the price suggests, so you’ll still have to set a price point but the wine steward will, at least, know you’re paying attention.
Ever since this blog started, back in 2008, in the Seattle P-I, I’ve preached this over and over. Wine critics like me are suggestions only, guideposts along your wine journey. Me, Parker, Tanzer, the Spectator tasting panel, Anthony Diaz Blue, doesn’t matter, you’re not supposed to make any of us your Final Word. Paul Gregutt, Sean Sullivan, me – we’re our most useful if you don’t live near a place where you can go and taste wines regularly. In that case, we can all provide you with some useful tips for those infrequent buying trips. But STOP – for the Love of God – thinking that, if you buy and taste a wine that some “expert” says is wonderful and you don’t like it, that presumptively means there’s something wrong with you. There is NOT. Neither is there something wrong with me, if I write about it and praise it. It just means we have different tastes. And if you buy and drink a wine that doesn’t please you, just because I said it was great…well, who’s the Fool now?
Maybe the most important thing to remember, in reading a wine critic, is that, no matter how hard we may try to maintain an Everyman palate, critics aren’t worth squat unless they build up a substantial knowledge base. I try hard to just ask “Does this taste good and will Joe Half-Case agree?” But I’ve tasted something past 14,000 wines, by now, and I thought about every single one of ’em. I am, just like you, a product of my own tastes and preferences and I do get nudged by those – hard. In the case of any wine writer, unless they’re as green as tree frogs, our palates are different from yours. That is, in fact, the main reason why you cannot make any of us your sole Buying Guide. If I like a wine, immediately google reviews for that same wine. Read them. If enough of them agree, try the wine. That is the proper use for guys like me.
EVERYBODY is suggestible when it comes to tastes. I wrestle with that problem constantly. It’s why I don’t form close friendships with brewers, winemakers, and distillers. I could, very easily, taste the beers from some guy I like, personally, and mentally erase shortcomings I would single out in a stranger’s beers. I might see them as better than they are. It’s why I NEVER read about a wine I’m going to taste in any other reviewer’s words before I try it. Gregutt, Sullivan, Parker, Tanzer, et al, can sway my judgment. When you taste ANY wine, be a blank slate. Have no feelings about it. Just let what happens in your mouth decide.
What’s shown in this video is nothing new. Research has proven out these facts about wine tasting many dozens of times. This is as objectively true as anything you’re ever likely to hear or see about wine. And yet, so many people will run right out, after Parker issues a 95-point score, and snap up that wine, without even tasting it. Many won’t even read what he writes about it, which is nearly always more valuable than the score. They see that 95 and salivate, like Pavlov’s dog. That is an unutterably dumb way to buy wine, to be involved in your wine journey, and to spend your money. DO NOT automatically assume that the $15 bottle of Argentine Cabernet on that wine shop shelf is in ANY way inferior to the $60 bottle of Napa Cabernet two feet away. In the 50+ blind tastings I’ve held in my 25 years in the wine biz, I used two bottles of Cabernet, both of which retail for less than $25, as ringers, up against Cabs at price points ranging up to $150. The minimum number of Cabs on those tables was six, in every case; the maximum, about ten. In 90% of those tastings, the ringers came in at either first, second or third. The ultra-premiums, in 60% of them, came in dead last.
Those two ringers? Concha y Toro’s “Marques de Casa Concha”, from Chile, and Peter Lehmann Cabernet, from Australia’s Barossa Valley. They are still two of the wine world’s greatest bargains. The best ultra-cheapie? McManis Family Cabernet, from California…about ten bucks.
If you never believe anything else written in this blog, believe this: There is absolutely NO correlation between the price of a bottle of wine and its quality. And I can make that same statement in complete confidence about beer and booze, too. I’m sorry to break this to you but there are no shortcuts. If you want to find that perfect drink for you, you’re just gonna have to taste a lot of different bottles until you find the one that rings all your bells. Guys and gals who do what I do can help with that, by pointing you in useful directions. But unless you Trust Yourself, you’re always going to be a little disappointed with wine and never really understand why.
Same can be said about beer, once you get above the InBev swill price that is.
Exactly. As I said in the post< "And I can make that same statement in complete confidence about beer and booze, too.” The idea that a higher priced wine or beer or whiskey is “better” completely ignores the inarguable fact that tastes are different, person to person. I’ve actually had winemakers try to say that differing tastes don’t matter. One minor Woodinville winery owner said, when I asked why I should buy and pour her $28 Merlot when I have a ten buck bottle of Miguel Torres Santa Digna on my shelf that’s better made, more age-worthy, and better balanced, “Well, because they’re not the same product!” I asked her to explain that and she said, “That’s from Chile and mine is from Washington. Obviously mine has a better pedigree.” **sigh* She’s now out of business and Miguel Torres has retired to his estate. If it says “Merlot” on the bottle, it competes with EVERY other bottle that says “Merlot”, regardless of provenance. Same with beer. I named Wild Earth Brewing “Tamarack” as one of the best Pale Ales in the US. Some of the emails I received were mind-boggling: “You cannot tell me that a beer from this little nothing brewery that nobody’s ever heard of is better than one from Stone or Dogfish or San Adams. If this guy’s beers were such hot shit, why haven’t I heard of them?” (He was writing from Omaha) And I caught a TON of shit for saying that Papa Bueno Silver Tequila was one of the three best I’ve tasted: “You can’t compare a twenty-five buck bottle of some Seattle Tequila with a $50 bottle of Tesoro Blanco! What the fuck’s the matter with you?” **sigh, Part Two** There will ALWAYS be people whose self-image and lifestyle tics won’t let them be seen as choosing the less pricey or the less prestigious. And, in that, their ignorance is its own punishment.