“Red wine with the fish, that should’ve told me something.” – James Bond in “From Russia With Love.”
The easiest way to pander to the plebes is by knocking wines and wine snobbery.
It’s the food writing equivalent of shooting monkey-suited, fish-faced drunks in a French oak barrel.
“See, most people prefer cheap wines to expensive ones! Expensive wine is for suckers!” — is how reverse-wine snobs put it.
That’s true — in the sense that most people prefer a cheap, fast-food hamburger to a custom-made one, and any Taco Bell outsells my favorite taco truck by 100-1 on any given day.
But the more you learn about wine (and tacos, for that matter), the more you come to appreciate the taste of an authentic, small-batch one.
Still, there’s no doubt that wine has brought a lot of this opprobrium on itself with its history of pretension, and all the currency it gives to arcane language, one-upmanship, and hi-falutin’ “experts” reciting laundry lists of scents and flavors.
For what it’s worth — I find the whole “I’m getting peach pits, Meyer lemon zest, wet tobacco, gun-flint, hedgerow fruits and forest forest floor on the nose” nonsense to be a particular affliction affecting mainly insecure American sommeliers and head-up-their-ass wine writers.
Reciting a list of descriptors to describe a wine is like trying to figure out what a recipe tastes like from a list of ingredients.
This disease can be cured, but it takes years of deprogramming to get them out of their snooty little heads. “Hedgerow fruits”? Really?
And while we’re at it, how many somms do you know who are familiar with 18th Century musketry?
One of my favorite descriptions (of those white Burgundies I’m so fond of) is they “taste like you just licked a wet rock.” Now that’s something even a six year old can understand.
Let’s face it, wine people talking about wine is boring with a capital “B.” And sommeliers can be insufferable when taken in anything but small sips. (This does not apply to the people who actually make wine — who can be some of the most charming people on earth.)
Yes, learning about wine is hard, but everything worthwhile is difficult when you first try it.
The thing about wine is how much fun the learning curve can be….as opposed to things like golf, needlepoint, or mountain climbing. But once you climb even a small wine hill, you’ll find that the journey was worth it….even if bottles costing hundreds of dollars rarely are.
To keep the mountaineering metaphor going for a minute, there’s a big difference between climbing Mount Everest and being helicoptered to the top. People who only drink “the best stuff” miss the beauty of the journey entirely. I drink a lot of “the best stuff” (as you see below), but those fifty buck bottles light my fire just as much as the five hundred dollar ones do.
If you want to become good at tasting wine, there’s only one way to do it: grab a corkscrew and start using it. And then think about what you’re drinking and why you like it (or don’t), and leave the friggin’ hedgerow fruit metaphors to the wineholes.