Judge not lest ye be judged

It’s a valid question, especially for someone starting out on the wine learning path. One of the stated goals of the WSET courses is to learn how to judge the quality of a wine by tasting it. By definition this means ridding oneself of personal tastes and preferences to give a dispassionate opinion of a wine. A wine could be of good quality and yet depending on personal taste, some people might not like it. I think that is one of the great challenges facing me.

For a long time I had an purely hedonistic approach to wine, simply trying to judge what I drank by whether I liked it, whether I enjoyed it or not. It’s not a bad approach, it’s open-minded, it’s simple and it makes wine drinking accessible for the profane. Gone are those days! I now must drink seriously, furrow my brow and take inspired and intense poses as I ponder the deep mysteries of the wine in my glass.

Appropriately furrowed brow

Appropriately furrowed brow

Nah, just kidding, that sounds like too much work… I still try to ask myself whether I enjoy a wine or not. The difference is that I should make myself form an objective opinion first. I hope the brow furrowing will be kept at minimal levels, it sounds painful. Plus I’m not sure I can pull off the inspired, focused look for extended periods of time… I’m not really sure it’s in my nature.

It remains hard to separate taste and quality, especially since I’m really a beginner. What is quality? I tend to think that a wine tastes like a wine from its region/variety/style should taste, then a certain standard is reached. Granted this is more like judging the representativity of a wine than its quality, but I think it’s a start. Of course it’s possible for an outlier of a wine to be of good quality while not being a good example of its style of region.

I really believe this is just a first step in the right direction. Eventually I’ll learn to be more specific about the quality of the wines I taste, judging, for instance, the aging potential for a young wine. But the road is long, and it’s a good thing. I mean it’s a good thing if tasting wine remains enjoyable; I never want it to become a chore, just an exercise of my taste buds and my wine knowledge. There is the intellectual thrill of learning and expanding your knowledge of course, but wine, by itself, has a thrill of its own that I do not want to lose along the way.

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I’m not a snob, I’m just French

There is an inherent risk for wine lovers to turn into wine snobs. Wine snobbery is a documented, legitimate, and extremely annoying disease. When I say to people that I love wine there is a 37.4% chance they might assume I’m afflicted by this disease. The number might seem high to you, it is also imaginary. While I was at it, I bumped it up a few imaginary levels too because of my being French, since it’s a natural reaction to label French people as snobs. The French thing and the wine thing, I’m really not helping my case, am I?

Oh well, if you ask me, I don’t think I’m a snob, at least not a wine snob. Of course that’s my opinion and I might not be in a position to judge, but still. I’ve seen wine snobbery. Back when I was living in Paris I had a friend who would turn up his nose at every bottle not coming from the two most celebrated wine growing regions in France: Bordeaux and Burgundy. That annoyed the crap out of me because I love wine from “lesser” regions, like the Rhone and Loire Valley wines, that tend to be cheaper, simpler and also extremely easy to enjoy compared to the more classic stuff. For the same price you could get a very boring Bordeaux or a really fun to drink Vouvray. I know which one I’m choosing. In that case being a wine snob gets you inferior wine, counterproductive to say the least.

And that was a debate about two French wines. Imagine what it would have been if I considered a “New World” wine! This being said, it’s true that I do not have a lot of experience with US wines. It’s not a conscious choice on my part, it’s an availability thing. In France finding US wines is hard. You’ll find South American, Australian and South African wine a lot more easily than Californian wines. I think it’s mostly a commercial issue, the Chilean and Australian wine sectors are geared towards exportation, the US one targets a more domestic market. I you also take into account the local production from France, US products will only have a small market share.

That’s why I’ve been mostly drinking US wines in the two years I’ve been living here; it was time to discover a whole world of wine I knew next to nothing about. I really want to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest to hit some wineries there, and some breweries while I’m at it.

Finally, if starting to take wine classes is teaching me something, it’s that the less you learn, the more you realize you know nothing. Realizing that makes being a wine snob a lot harder.