Good wine doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s like art, totally subjective.
I’m no wine connoisseur, though I’m interested in learning. I know that I appreciate the occasional glass with a steak or some cheese. But wine doesn’t have to be reserved for special events and treated with reverence. Tonight, I had a glass of Pinot Noir that I genuinely appreciated. It was 9 bucks a glass and 36 bucks for the bottle. If you’re a wine snob, you may be rolling your eyes, particularly after you’ve factored in the bar’s markup. Even if you’re a sommelier, you know better than to select your glass based on cost. From businessinsider.com:
In fact, a professional sommelier recently outlined the characteristics that make a wine high-quality, and “price tag” wasn’t one of them.
Not surprising. Wine, like anything else, is not always priced according to quality. Often, you’re paying for the name on the label or splashy marketing. Because wine is made from grapes that were once alive and affected by weather, temperature, soil, and many other variables, wine from the same vineyard will change from year to year. Rarely do they drop the price during a bad year, however.
That’s not to say that you can’t find decadent, expensive wine, obviously. However, identifying that decadent wine may be more difficult than most people let on.
In a blind taste test conducted by Hertfordshire University psychologist Richard Wiseman in Scotland, it was found that identifying a wine as cheap or expensive has about the same odds as flipping a coin: 50/50.
Trained experts are generally better about being able to identify wine. It’s not usually about what’s in the bottle, however, but what’s in their mind. From The Atlantic:
In 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted two experiments at the University of Bordeaux.
In one experiment, he got 54 oenology (the study of wine tasting and wine making) undergraduates together and had them taste one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine. He had them describe each wine in as much detail as their expertise would allow. What he didn’t tell them was both were the same wine. He just dyed the white one red…The tasters in the first experiment, the one with the dyed wine, described the sorts of berries and grapes and tannins they could detect in the red wine just as if it really was red. Every single one, all 54, could not tell it was white.
This isn’t because they were bad at tasting wine. Instead, it simply proves what we’ve always known – our brain is subject to influence from our expectations. If we think that expensive wine means that it’s good, we’ll rate the pricier glass as tasting better, even if it’s a worse (or the exact same) wine. If we alter our expectations, we can actually alter our preferences.
Appreciation of wine for me is about new flavor and sensory experiences. The way the wine rolls in the glass is part of the experience. I enjoy the color and watching the light refracting off the liquid. I’m not alone. A good portion of the wine drinking population is in the process of exploring.
The second level of appreciation involves learning and experience. As we think about the flavours we are encountering, there emerges a new way of appreciating these flavours, and we realize that we have the capacity to learn to like things. Thus even flavours that we fail to appreciate at a hedonic level (those we are unsure about, or don’t like) can grow on us. Interestingly, it is these acquired tastes that are often the more enduring ones. We rarely go crazy about flavours that are easy to like, but those which we’ve grown to like are frequently compelling.
Ahhhh, this reminds me of how I fell in love with coffee. While we’re on the topic of new experiences, the bartender was helpful. She recommended a delicious Zinfandel that hit me immediately with notes of licorice. Fully balanced, my inexperienced palate (for wine) detected some cherry flavor. Exquisite experience. I immediately found the bottle online for about 30 bucks.
You know we challenge assumptions at every turn. Just like Scotch (Monkey Shoulder?), tasty wine needn’t come with a monster price tag.