Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Wine and "The One Rule"
There's only one rule in wine.
If you can follow this rule, you'll never be unhappy with your wine selections. Sounds like a pipe dream, I know, but it isn't. Like most things in wine, it's really simple.
Ready? Here's what I call "The One Rule."
Drink what tastes good; ignore ALL other advice.
Now you've heard part of this before. Everyone knows that drinking what you like is what's important. There's no reason to put wine that smells bad and tastes funny in your mouth. None. Ever.
Drinking what you like, however, isn't enough. There's a second clause I've added to make the rule my own - ignore all other advice.
Now I've been a wine columnist so I've done my share of giving wine advice. And in my first column, I told my readers that, some days, I'd be wrong. I'd recommend wines that they didn't like.
Why on earth would I tell my readers I'd be wrong? Doesn't that undermine my credibility as a wine reviewer? Why would I want to shoot myself in the foot like this? Don't people want to be able to rely on a wine guy's recommendations?
Maintaining my credibility was precisely why I told readers I'd occasionally lead them down the primrose path. Now, I always seek wines of quality (what the French call vin de garde), but sometimes you won't like what I pick. People perceive taste differently. Where some taste red fruit flavors, others taste black fruit. Some folks are sensitive to tannin, some to oak and some to acid. As a wine critic, I realized that I'd never make everyone happy. It wasn't my job. Even if it were my job, it's just not possible.
What is possible, though, and a million times more desirable, is for wine drinkers to be equipped to choose spoiled grape juice without any help. Sure, there are people like Robert Parker and publications like Wine Spectator and they can be useful. But too many, and I sometimes include myself in this category, rely on these outside opinions.
This can be a monumental mistake. I'll give you an example.
I know wine professionals who refuse to sell white Zinfandel to customers because they think it's awful wine. That's not only unprofitable, it's arrogant. If it's what a customer wants, give it to them. I try to steer them toward quality white Zinfandel, but you can't assume you know their tastes better than they do. If you like a certain kind of wine, then don't let a wine salesman bully you into buying a wine you don't like. To avoid this you have to know what you like.
Now to the serious part. When you live by a philosophy like The One Rule, there are always costs.
The bad news is that you'll have to drink more. Living by The One Rule requires you know what you like. Do you like your wines dry or sweet? Red or white? Lots of fruit or mostly earthy flavors? High acid? Low tannin? Prefer young wines or aged ones? The more you know about your preferences, the easier this gets. To drink what you like, you have to know what you like.
Drinking more has additional costs: spending time and money. In order to know what you like, you should taste everything you can get your hands on. This is no mean trick - Italy alone produces wine from about 1000 grapes. Granted, we generally see only 20 or so of them in the US, but you should try to taste them all. To make it even more complicated, there are probably multiple producers for each of these grapes. See what I mean about spending money?
To live by The One Rule, you'll also need to make notes. Lots and lots of notes. That takes time. I'll give you a better idea how to do that in future posts, but for now, just try and write down the name of the wine, the producer, the grapes, the region and if you liked it or not. Point is, this takes time.
Living by any philosophy is tough, but worth it. Just ask a Stoic living in challenging times; there are benefits. The One Rule is no different.
Ready for the good news?
To live by The One Rule, you'll have to drink more wine. This means more intimate encounters with friends and chances to meet future friends. It means more opportunities for fascinating, funny, sweet, troublemaking conversations. This means lots of simple, luxurious, tasty food to go with the wines.
In short, The One Rule is a harsh mistress, but one that may make your whole life better.
And who doesn't want that?