Karen McNeill, in the The Wine Bible, says “One of the most insidious myths in American wine culture is that a wine is good if you like it.”
Liking a wine has nothing to do with whether it is good. Liking a wine has to do with liking that wine. Period. Wine requires two assessments: Subjective and Objective.
The best way to illustrate this aspect is through the world of fashion. You may not like wearing Ralph Lauren but you agree that Lauren is a great fashion designer nonetheless. So, just as in fashion, getting to the point where you have both a subjective and objective opinion of a wine is one of the most rewarding stages in developing knowledge and comfort in wine.
It allows you to separate your liking of something from its quality. For example, it is entirely possible to love a wine but know that it’s not a great wine in the big scheme of things. At our home, we have what we call house wines. These are the inexpensive wines we enjoy each evening with our meals. Some of our house wines have included Columbia Crest Two Vines Merlot, Smoking Loon Viognier and at present, Bohemian Highway Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines would certainly not be considered great wines by the experts (although the Two Vines Merlot recently was awarded one of the “100 Best Wines of the Year” by a popular wine magazine), but we like them and therefore enjoy them at our table each evening.
We all know what we like. But, having a valid objective opinion requires expanding your sphere of knowledge. This can only happen when you drink wines that are unfamiliar and by tasting them in a focused way with an open mind. This takes your knowledge (and comfort) level of wine to a higher realm. Drinking wines within a narrow range of preference skews your palate. If you only drink muscular, tannic Cabernets from California, you will think all wines should taste muscular and tannic. But when someone hands you an exquisite Burgundy from France, you’ll assess it as thin, meek and watery.
Goal: Consciously try to avoid superimposing your ideas of what a wine is supposed to taste like and instead first listen to what the wine is “saying”. Don’t be discouraged, a proper assessment of wine takes time.
Next in assessing wine, we will address “What to Look For”