ne of my favorite parts of working in the wine industry is getting to hear about what people think of the wines - what they enjoy, what’s a mystery still, and what’s trendy. Talking with store managers, restaurateurs, and people in the wholesale end of the industry fascinates me when we compare observations. Pouring tastings that are attended by the public is often the most interesting for me.
I’m amazed when I hear things like, “that doesn’t taste like Pinot Noir, it’s so light,” “why is it red if it says Sancerre,” and “I don’t drink Chardonnay but I like Chablis.” I know that not everyone has the time or inclination to learn more about wine, but I do try to take the time to understand things in other fields just so I know what I’m saying and how to form an opinion and preferences about it. And it’s a good idea to take the time to learn more about what we think we like and dislike, and why.
My favorite line from Bruce Almighty is, “but since when does anyone have a clue about what they want?”
And it’s true. Many of us, probably all of us actually, don’t really know what it is that we want, in many parts of our lives. But isn’t it worth trying to find out? Isn’t it worth knowing why we tend toward certain things and repel other things?
Just like people, wines are all individuals. No two of them are the same. As I’ve explained in prior posts, we see a great deal of variation in wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A Pinot Noir can be so light and bright (Burgundian style) or it can be rich and deep and smoky (California style). A Chardonnay can be crisp and lemony and almost tart, or it can be creamy, buttery, and reflect almost baked fruit characteristics. Do you have a preference? I know I have preferences! But we need to keep on tasting in order to find out what we like best, before just saying outright, “I don’t like Chardonnay” or “I love Pinot Noir.” What style do you like?
I did enjoy the movie Sideways, but I was pretty annoyed when I realized that people were going around saying they love Pinot Noir just because Sideways told them to do that. (And for the record, most of the Pinot Noir shown in Sideways was not made in the traditional Burgundian style - I recently tasted Sea Smoke, which was shown in the movie, and I can assure you I prefer something Burgundian in the same price range.) I can also assure you that another line from that movie caused the sales of Merlot to plummet, and undoubtedly the people who knocked Merlot after seeing the movie never actually tasted a good Pomerol or Saint-Emilion.
My point is, the best way to learn is to keep on tasting. If it sounds like a fun learning experiment, it is! It’s how I did most of my learning. Yes, I’ve read up on lots of grapes, regions, production methods, etc., but tasting is how most learning is done, when it comes to wine. And there’s no better way to find out what we like best. That’s how we find out what we really want in a wine. Pouring tastings are fun for me for that reason - I love it when someone tastes something they’ve never had before and realize that they connect well with it, they want to know more about it, and ultimately leave with a bottle of it.