A researcher presented blindfolded “prestigious wine experts” with the same wine three times in a row, and each taster’s point score varied by roughly four points on an 80 to 100 point scale.
Another showdown of “experts” blind-tasted from two different glasses the same white wine, one of which had been dyed red. The tasting notes for the “red” concerned its “jammy” qualities, flavors of cherries and strawberries, etc.
Identical wines poured into different bottles (one with a fancy label, the other not) draw wildly different reviews. From professional wine-magazine reviewers.
At first glance these stories elicit in most of us a “told-ya-so” head-nod: wine assessment is fraudulent. I think rather they illustrate the significance of time, place, mood and mind on the assessment of wine, on the assessment of everything.
Didn’t we already know that everything shifts? That the process of observation — affected by time, place, mood and mind — is real, while the object of observation is a hallucination? Yes, but almost no one cops to it, lest one lose face. Attempts to fix the object and assign it value blow up in one’s face every time.
The following are notes toward a dismantling of this matrix of (self- and other) deception.
We behave as if we are integrated evaluation computers, unflaggingly accurate. Really, we are a series of arbitrary chemical and electrical impulses, clumsily disguised by personality clothing (sometimes known as an “ego”) that presents an unthreatening, utterly false story about who we are.
We yearn to take off the personality clothes, and get a little closer to the messy flesh, bruised, scarred and aging though it might be.
The only true stories come in dreams. Or in drink.
Evidence of a corrupt culture:
• Crowd-sourced information: Everyone’s an expert.
• Info overload: If a tree falls in a forest and a micro-blog doesn’t record the speed at which its smaller branches snapped off, and your “feed” doesn’t notify you, did the tree ever exist?
• Marketing language as ubiquitous, permeating, and unseen as water for fish: The only way to convey excitement is to breathlessly simulate advertising.
• Ceaseless self-promotion: Every momentary thought is worthy of lasting, widespread adulation.
This atmosphere creates so much fear, so much potential loss of psychic control, that we fight back by trying to keep every shred of actual experience in a tidy category-hole.
We project this perverse desire onto our professional critics, expecting “objectivity” and honesty where it’s not possible to find any. “Please,” we beg, “tell me that wine’s ‘blackberry, toffee and cigar-leaf notes’ are real, so I can go on believing that categories are real.” They’re only too happy to oblige: This wine gets 92 points. That one tastes like gooseberries (have you ever even tasted a gooseberry?).
We must stop playing this game. Stop following rules established by an industry hell-bent on boxing us into its illogic, which is predicated on establishing and fortifying authority.
Do not taste wine. Drink wine. Every once in a while drink wine while trying to do nothing else. Most of the time drink wine while you’re doing something else that provides the opportunity to experience beauty: listen to music, read poetry, break bread, walk on the beach. Sometimes do this with someone else, sometimes don’t.
Do not make comparisons. Do not grade anything. Do not assess movies. Do not compare children. Do not evaluate romantic conversations. Do not appraise sunsets. Do not organize your thoughts. Do not classify wines. Do not spend time with people who do any of those things.
The only salient criterion for wine is whether it’s true or false.
False wine will momentarily satisfy. It will play nice, and perform tricks. It will sit, stay and roll over. It will be forgotten. False wine will adorn your life and align with your lifestyle, the way new shower curtains and phones and cars do. False wine will never admit it doesn’t know what’s going on, and so critics who pretend to know what’s going on will praise it.
True wine will not only never satisfy; it will never promise satisfaction. True wine somehow acknowledges what the critics never do: that nothing is certain; that everything is permitted; that while appearances suggest stasis, beneath is constant motion.
Practical advice? Look for unknown quantities, and resist the temptation to render them known. Here are some ways to do this with wine:
• Do not buy any wine advertised in any magazine.
• Buy wine from a store’s discount bucket.
• Order wine at a restaurant with the most words in the listing that are unfamiliar to you.
• Don’t ask for help; see what happens. Next time, ask for help; see what happens.
• When you seek assistance, don’t talk about flavors. Instead, ask about wines that are produced with a light human touch. Ask your interlocutor, “What’s the truest wine you know?” Ask this even if you doubt they’ll be able to answer. Together, you’ll work it out. If the conversation gets awkward, you’ll know you’ve eluded that false-knowing critic stance. You’ll be onto something.
Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: