I’ve read that in many tastings, cheap wine scores higher than the good stuff. How is that possible?
The internet sure loves a good controversy, especially when it appears to prove that “the man” is sticking it to the little guy. To many wine novices, the perception is that the sticking is being done by all those high-end wineries that charge what, to them, seems like a king’s ransom for their juice.
These “tastings” you mention seem to pop up online with unsettling frequency as anyone with a love of conspiracy, looking for a chance to go viral, gathers together a handful of regular folk to give their hedonistic opinion on a group of mystery wines in hopes of showing that price doesn’t relate to quality.
Some setups do include professional wine tasters, but they tend to be aimed at embarrassing the experts rather than proving an average table wine is better than the output of a premium winery.
So how could anyone, no matter how little they know about vino, determine that a bargain-basement bottle tastes better than its pricier counterparts? Well, the key is that the less a taster knows, the more apt they are to drink from the heart rather than the head, and that scenario guarantees that the odds will always be stacked against, as you put it, the good stuff.
Why? In many ways you pay the big bucks for body, muscle and longevity, and a wine built to taste best in 30 years won’t drink to its true potential if you pop its cork before its time. Line up a selection of cheap, cheerful and odds are, sweeter wines against their pricier competition all packed with heavy tannins, sharp acidity and unbalanced fruit flavours (which they all would show if drank too young), and I have no doubt the majority of newbies would pick the path most approachable.
Not that there’s anything wrong with inexpensive wine; I certainly drink more than my fair share. I just know what great wine tastes like, and they cost a lot more.
Is there a trick to describing a wine’s flavour?
The best thing about describing wine is there really aren’t any rules. Sure, professionals have a lexicon of liquid descriptors they rely on to get their opinions across, but you don’t have to use them. All you have to do is keep your mind as open as your mouth.
I get that the pressure to pull out specific flavours and aromas from a glass can be daunting for the uninitiated palate. If I can give you one tip it would be to worry less about what a wine isn’t revealing to you and more about putting into words what pops into your head when you’re experiencing its juice.
You can start by imagining all the other non-grape fruit flavours a particular wine is letting loose. They all have basic characteristics you’ll easily find familiar. Cabernet Sauvignon, for example, can give the impression of blackberry, blackcurrant or cassis depending on how winemakers put their spin on it.
Beyond the basic flavour profile, any number of winemaking manoeuvres (like how a wine is aged) will add layers of nuance to that profile that you’ve got to understand to identify. That’s where a seasoned taster can pull a rabbit out of their hat.
Never fear the use of purple prose. I have a friend who goes back into her mind when she tastes, humanizing what she’s drinking into vivid, and often hilarious, pictures.
While I’ve never enjoyed her grandmother’s Blueberry Grunt, when she uses that kind of imagery it never fails to remind me that when it comes to wine, you get what you get.