A male customer, accompanied by an attractive young women, recently asked for my help in selecting a wine. He explained he was looking for a $120-130 bottle of wine – odd most people lead with the type or flavours they want – he went on to tell me he wanted a sweet, light bodied, fruity red wine. He was trying to “learn” about wine he explained, I’m sure the blond to his side had nothing to do with the price being the first mentioned qualifier for the type of wine.
Recently I was asked to recommend a couple $15-20 bottles of wine for a wedding, a white and a red. Astonishingly the first white I bought to test as an appropriate recommendation blew my mind, I have been much less successful with the reds so far.
These two experiences made me seriously evaluate the process by which I make a wine recommendation. Wine is or was – I would argue over the past few years the situation has greatly improved – plagued by pompous Essex types that seem to be determined to make sure laymen will never have access to the knowledge required to consistently choose and drink good wine. The wine world is viewed as pretentious warranted or not. I for one would like to do my part to remove pretention from the world of wine but this is not always as easy as it may seem.
There is a lot of misunderstandings about wine. When a person asks me for a sweet red I am always torn. Let it heretofore be known that there is essentially no such thing as a sweet red wine!* This situation presents me with a dilemma: do I risk loosing there trust and sounding like a pretentious ass by explaining all those reds they have drank in the past were not actually sweet but rather had intense fruit flavour, low acidity and low tannin (or they’ve been drinking nothing but port) or do I lie and point them in the direction of a wine they will believe to be sweet?
When a customer asks for a $130 bottle of wine that is light bodied, sweet, and fruity, do I explain that they don’t make $130 bottles of fruit juice?
As with any entertainment based set of expertise one must be careful when discussing ones area of focus with people who may only have a passing interest in the subject. I enjoy movies to a certain extent but I mainly enjoy the Yellowtail equivalent of movies – woe be to the man who tries to get me to watch a foreign subtitled movie, if I wanted to read I would pick up a book. I understand that the vast majority of people who drink wine don’t care about the difference between berry flavour and sweetness, most people don’t get excited when their wine tastes like tar or cat pee.
Knowing you’re audience is important no matter what your field, some wine drinkers are going to opt for Yellowtail over a nice Barolo, much like I would opt for Dude Where’s My Car over American Beauty (or whatever people consider a really good movie). Every wine (with a few exceptions), much like every movie, has it’s place. The person who loves Yellowtail in any of it’s incarnations is totally right in asserting that it is an awesome wine: tastes are subjective.
Every subjective entertainment based form of expertise must, to justify it’s existence, develop an objective standard of quality even though fundamentally it will be a completely arbitrary standard. But without developing such a standard wine and movies can only be talked about in subjective terms, Dude Where’s My Car would be on equal footing as Gone with the Wind, and to most people that just seems wrong. The world of wine is no exception but it would seem people don’t have the same understanding of why a great wine might be great if it does not fit their tastes where they might with movies or music.
The agreed upon standard of quality allows for us to better measure and understand wine but it also makes wine more mysterious and inaccessible by those who are not privy to the standard. It divides wine drinkers into different groups, the experts, the interested, and those who just like wine. The experts and the interested will most likely develop their palate and become interested in more complex and bizarre flavours: tar, gasoline, botrytis amongst others while those that just like wine might appreciate the fruit and oak flavours.
It is rare indeed that a wine will unite these three distinct groups. Just like they don’t make $130 bottles of fruit juice they often don’t make complex well balanced appealing wine for under $20. But they did! Wine that will satisfy all types of wine drinkers are rare and hard to find. The wine must have sufficient complexity and balance to appeal to the connoisseur yet must also posses fruit forward flavours to appeal to those that may just have a passing interest in wine.
When I recommend a wine I try to get an idea of what a person likes and how seriously they take the pursuit of wine. When a man wants to spend $130 on a bottle of wine there is a lot of interesting and delicious wine that I can suggest, when a man wants to spend $130 on wine so he can get laid the options available that he will enjoy become severely limited. I pointed him in the direction of Bella’s Garden Two Hands Shiraz which is full bodied, dry, fruity with a lot of other complex flavours basically not at all what he was looking for but he was unwilling to pay $10-20 so it was pretty much the closest I could suggest.
As for the wedding J.Lhor Chardonnay is a winner, now if only I could find a red…
Region: Arroyo Seco, California
Notes: I don't generally love Chardonnay but this is probably one of my new favorite whites! Great complexity, great balance, great taste. Banana, melon, pineapple, butterscotch, vanilla, toasty, smoke, peach, mineral, lovely! What truly sets this Chardonnay apart from the rest is the perfect level of oaking, it's not overpowering and it is well integrated - a rarity amongst California Chardonnays I have tried. This wine is Awesome!
I was going to post some notes on a couple of the reds I tried as potential suggestions for the wedding but quite honestly I don't see the point of putting in the effort of typing out my notes about wine that underwhelmed me, if you what a suggestion for a wine that is average just ask.
*Given the best possible conditions for a human to detect sugar there must be at least 2g/L and a best this will taste mildly sweet, with tannin and acidity in the mix a persons ability to detect sugar will be further decreased. I just quickly checked a mass made wine the could probably be described as “sweet” to a person looking for a “sweet” red, it had 3g/L. I remember this wine, I didn’t especially like it, it was not sweet I wouldn’t even call it off-dry it was definitely dry but it had intense fruit flavours which give the perception of being sweet. The key to determining whether a wine is sweet or dry is the tip of your tongue, that is where you will sense sugar most intensely. Ripe berry flavours do not a sweet wine make.