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TASTING WINE VS. DRINKING WINE – IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?

John Tilson • 1/23/13        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

Hey, I don’t mean to sound like a fossil, but age and experience does often give one a sense of perspective. So I am going to go back to times that may seem so long ago. But, in reality, these times were only about twenty years ago. That is the time that wines started to change and you can read about that in my article What is Wine? (To read this article click here and for an update article What’s In Your Wine Bottle? click here)

But, now I am not talking  about the change in how wine is made and how it tastes, but how it is tasted and consumed.  And, make no mistake, there is a huge difference. From the beginning my friends and I (many of which were involved with the old Underground and are still involved with the new Underground) were wine drinkers. I often say I taste wine, but to be technically correct what I mean is I drink wine. I don’t rate and evaluate wines in marathon wine tastings of hundreds of wines at a time where you taste and spit. (To read my article on this subject entitled Vinous Drive By – It’s The Drive By Sip And Spit” click here)

Not that I have never done these marathon tastings, I have. But, after some time experimenting, I concluded that it is a waste of time. It produces no valid results no matter who does the marathon tasting or what ratings are used. And, it is tiring and, after a period of time, really quite boring. However, I do drink and taste wines with food every day. And, the wines that I drink and the foods that I eat are ones that I think complement each other. Some times I have different wines with different foods, but most times I taste and drink the same wines over a period of days with different foods. The latter is almost always true when I am evaluating young wines.

 

 

Think about it. How is wine consumed? Well, I think there are two ways. One is to just drink. Forget the food. Just drink and then drink some more. In fact, some people drink until they drop!  And, even when wine is served with food,  I have often noticed people have wine with food who are not having wine with food. How is that possible? Simple, they eat their food and then drink their wine. And, if you are a high profile drinker with a big wallet, you may just go for the numbers. If you’re not in that league, then maybe you just drink anything with alcohol. It’s more about drinking than eating and drinking. But, the other way is to drink wine WITH food and, for me, this is the only way to go. Here you have two choices. First, serve young big numbers wines as a way to impress your friends with your knowledge and net worth! Good luck. This is a fool’s game. People who really know wine and food will not be impressed. And people who do not know wine are unlikely to think that it was a marvelous experience. The second way is to drink wine the way it was meant to be consumed from the beginning. That is to find wines that complement the foods that you are eating. And, here it is only your choice and taste that matters. (To read A Guide To The Game of Wine And Food Match Making click here).

Is there a correlation between the wines made in the historical wine producing areas of the world and the local cuisine?  I think the answer is a resounding yes. The rosés from Provence are a classic example. They account for most of the wine production in this Mediterranean region. Here the wines are perfectly matched with the lighter foods that predominate the area. And, in the new world what do we have? Well, it’s new. We don’t have a cuisine. We have lots of different cuisines. And, we don’t have one predominant type of wine. We have lots of different types of wines. Included are new wines that have as their reason for being to be the biggest, darkest wines on the planet with lots of extract and alcohol. And, what are these wines for? Good question! For me, it’s not most food. But, these high extract alcoholic wines can be very good to get big numbers from wine critics who need the big kick to make an impression in marathon drive by sip and spit tastings. This, in turn, has spawned the largest number of big numbers critics in the history of the planet. And these high extract alcoholic wines have also been really good for producers doing small batches of big wines to create a false impression of scarcity and higher and higher prices. But, that is all changing. Too many are playing the same game. The wines are too much the same. And many prices are goofy, but, with few exceptions, are moderating from very lofty heights.

So what is wine all about? It is very simple. It is a beverage to be enjoyed and matched with food. The two go together. They are not mutually exclusive. And, thick heavy alcoholic wines are not the wines that complement most foods. Oh yes, I know there are some that would drink a big numbers 17% sweet red wine fruit bomb with filet of sole or shell fish, but these are probably some of the same people who only drink numbers and don’t care much about what they eat when they are drinking the the high octane juice. And, they probably eat the food and then drink the wine. At least I hope so.  Either way, what a shame! The matching of great wine and great food is one of life’s great pleasures and it is enhanced in the company of friends. But, there probably is a time and place for everything. So maybe a big California Syrah would appeal to some people with something like Santa Maria Bar-B-Q (assuming it was not a hot summer day and the wine was warm)!  In fact, I would enjoy a glass of balanced Syrah made by producers such as Qupé (to read my article click here)  or Ojai Vineyards (to read my article click here) served at cellar temperature with Bar-B-Que on a warm (but not hot) day. In fact, this may very well be a regional food and wine match since the wine and food come from the same general area.  So forget tasting. Forget trying to buy numbers. Buy and drink the wine you like with the foods that you like to eat. (To read my article on this subject “Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink” click here)

Experiment and make your own choices. Why buy big intense alcoholic wines just because they have a big number? Would you buy 100 point broccoli if you don’t like broccoli? If you do like big intense wine to drink and enjoy with your food, then go for it.  Or maybe you buy big intense wines to drink without food. Fine. If you like it, drink it.  Or do you buy  big numbers intense alcoholic wines because you are a “wine investor aka collector”? If so, you probably don’t drink the wines or at least not very often. But, if that is the case and you are using the big numbers as a reason for buying “investment” wines, it is likely that many will not prove to be increasingly valuable over time. So, I would say that you are playing a game of musical chairs. And, if that is so, you may find yourself not feeling too well and with no where to go at the end of the game. However, that hangover and buyers remorse  very well may be fair justice for staying too long at the party!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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6 comments for “TASTING WINE VS. DRINKING WINE – IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?”

  1. Hey John,
    thanks for the article.
    This touches on something I’ve struggled with for quite awhile- numbered ratings in general.
    While I can totally understand why some larger shops rely on numbers to help sell their wines to people who might only have a casual interest, I have a very hard time with them unless they fall into one of two categories: obscenely high, or ridiculously low.
    If I saw a wine that had been rated by several people at, say 65 or something, I might think to myself “hm…this probably wasn’t very well made”. But I’ve yet to see a wine in a shop rated that low (In all honesty, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a rating under 85 on a shelf), why would they bother even trying to sell it?
    Conversely, if I saw a wine that had multiple scores of 99 or 100, I might, MIGHT think to myself “I wonder what it is about this wine that has all the critics singing its praises so highly”. But- it would no doubt be priced out of my comfort zone.
    And then I would start thinking- “what’s the difference between a 99 point wine and a 100 pt?” Or, “is a 97 really that much better than a 96?”.
    And are they (the critics) saying “hey, this is a 99pt wine RIGHT NOW, a month after its release”, even though there might be some arbitrary window of drinkability like “drink between 2021 and 2050”? Or are they suggesting “this wine is pretty good, and at some point between now and 2050 it will be a 99 pointer, so stock up on a case and keep popping bottles til you hit the sweet spot”.
    Might they be saying “this wine was a 99 point wine when I had one medium sized sip at 12:18pm on a Wednesday in a tasting lab under fluorescent lights, after tasting through fourteen Napa cabs (with alcohol levels in the 16% ranges), twenty two big jammy Zins from Paso and a couple of full throttle Grenache blends from somewhere near Sanata Barbara? On an empty stomach. Is that when it was a 99 pointer?
    And I don’t care what anyone says- a sip and spit is not the same as a sip and swallow. It just isn’t.
    I guess what it comes down to for me is, I like to taste my wine while drinking it.
    I also like to drink in context. I like to know at least a little bit about what’s in my glass. While it wouldn’t make a lousy glass taste delicious, it might at least make it more interesting.
    Dave

    Posted by Dave | January 24, 2013, 10:44 am
  2. Hi Dave,
    Thanks for your comments.
    I don’t struggle with number ratings because I just don’t use them. There is usually no indication of how the wine of was tasted or often even who did the tasting. Essentially, often when these numbers are thrown out, the consumer is asked to buy something blind based on a number. Can you think of anything else you would buy this way? Add to that the fact that my taste mostly does not mesh with those of the big numbers boys and any number simply becomes irrelevant. In fact, I think many of the real high end numbers are mostly a reverse indicator. A 100 point, 17% alcohol, residual sugar, fruit bomb is just not my glass of wine!
    And, yes there is a real difference in tasting such as the sip and spit tastings done from barrel or marathon tastings of bottled wines and tasting and drinking a finished wine with food. The Underground was very early in tasting wines from barrel and we did not score them. Later we offered a potential score and then others followed with “perfect” wines tasted from barrel. Why, even today, consumers do not see through this is beyond me. But there are plenty of retailers who offer wines for sale based on tastings from barrel. And, sometimes these same scores are used long after the wine has been in the bottle and offered for sale.
    And, you are correct. The difference in the numbers has little to do with the quality of the wine. It has more to do with how the wines are tasted and who is doing the tasting as well as the personal prejudices of who is doing the tasting and writing the note. In fact, do we know that these last two things are one in the same? I don’t know. But, I do believe that the degree of accuracy assigned to a 100 point system has nothing to do with reality.
    The bottom line. It’s all about personal taste and everyone has to decide which wines they like based on their taste. So maybe if you don’t know how to ride a bike you need training wheels, but once you get the hang of it, ditch the training wheels! That’s how I feel about wine and big numbers.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | January 24, 2013, 4:53 pm
  3. I agree 100% John.
    I pay little to no attention to numbered ratings, as far as making a purchase is concerned.
    Even if I were to share palate preferences with the taster, a numbered rating seems to imply a very specific level of quality without any specific mention of WHEN. When is the wine at that particular (and very specific) number? Now? Ten years from now? etc…
    Just doesn’t make sense to me.

    On a side note, I’ve learned to pretty much ignore vintage ratings too. Unless it is spectacularly and utterly horrible, I tend to trust the producers I like rather than the vintage rating.
    Case in point- I’ve been drinking lots of ’83 Bordeaux recently that are just beautiful, and in many case have outlasted their ’82 brothers, at least to my taste;)
    Keep up the good work, I look forward to reading your articles!

    Posted by Dave | January 25, 2013, 1:14 pm
  4. Thanks Dave. I think this is the conclusion that most people will reach over time relative to the numbers. Yes, I also agree on vintages. Better to buy the wines you like each year and forget about trying to buy only “the best” vintages. Tasting wines from barrel and making big calls is fraught with the same problems as the big numbers. Your comments about 1983 Bordeaux also reflect my feelings. Many of the 1982 Bordeaux were and are over rated.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | January 28, 2013, 4:15 pm
  5. Hooray for your article on drinking, not tasting, wine. On the occasion of my 70th birthday I invited my dearest wine drinking friends (30), many are well known wine professionals, for an evening of wine and food pleasure. The wines were 1980 Dom Perignon, 1945, ’53 and 61 Gruaud Larose, ’45 Calon Segur and 53 La Mission Haut Brion. All were in large format bottles and had been in my cellar for 30 plus years. There was ample wine for “drinking” coupled to food created to match the wines by the imaginative French chefs at Villa Azur in Miami Beach. All of the wines were delicate, in perfect form and classic of their vintages. I cannot describe the joy of all who attended. I don’t believe anyone kept notes except the indelible memory which all will savour. I could not agree more about the over extracted, hot jammy wines being monolithically produced today and how they are destroying the pleasure of drinking with food.

    Posted by steve mandy | February 4, 2013, 7:33 am
  6. Thanks Steve,
    This sounds like a great party with plenty of excellent wine to drink and really good food. Just the kind of thing I enjoy for celebrations! I am very familiar with all the wines (except the 80 DP) and still have a couple of them in my cellar. Probably time to pull a cork or two!
    Right on to your last comment. As you read through the old issues of the Underground, as I do regularly now when I write the Retrospective Reviews, you can see how the Underground has been advocating balanced wines from the beginning. Fortunately, for all of the new wave fruit bombs there are many other beautifully balanced wines which gives us all a choice. The Underground will continue to focus on balanced wines that are made in a traditional manner to complement food and speak out for full disclosure in wine labeling. The consumer has a right to know and the Underground is on it! Please pass on the Underground to your friends and encourage them to also pass it along.
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | February 4, 2013, 12:10 pm

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