A Guide to Wine, Food & the Good Life


John Tilson • 9/19/11        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share


Do you get email notices about great deals? I do. And I am sure a lot of you do too. The problem is that nearly all of them are based on some big number score from some “wine expert.” Hah, I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no such thing!

Why do I say that? First, wine is a matter of  personal taste. And that taste comes from drinking wine with food. But, most of these big numbers folks get paid to taste wines. And there is a huge difference between tasting wine and drinking wine with food. The people who live in the oldest winemaking regions of the world understand. But, in the new world, particularly the U.S., many people are more influenced by a number than their own taste. Now having said that I understand that taste is personal. And, for those of you who choose to drink tannic, monster wines with fish and other such bizarre combinations, be my guest. But to drink a wine with anything just because it has a big number is just plain goofy!

Why?  Well, the simple, unadulterated fact is that the world is awash in wine. And the more producers continue to push the envelope to make more and more extracted wines and use  more and more “industrial wine making techniques” (to see my Underground Wine Line article on this subject please click here) the worse the situation will become. The great majority of the time, markets  push in two directions –- towards the top and towards the bottom. Sometimes things get really wacky. Everything goes up. Then, before you know it, everything goes down. ( Think real estate and think the stock market.) In the case of wine, the elusive and transitional concept of “quality” often determines who is on the top and who is on the bottom at any point in time.  But, if you are on the bottom and offer value you win. And, if you are on the top with a long standing history of scarcity producing high demand (which translates into higher prices) you win. But, if you are in the middle and think you can win by chasing higher prices based on goofy numbers created by drive by sip and spit tastings, then you only have one place to go and that is down. Simply translated, you are going to get squeezed like a grape.

Likewise, a lot of folks, who think that they are in the cat bird seat buying wines based on big numbers and sip and spit marathon tastings of wines with no track record, are whistling through the grave yard. If you do not do the work, you deserve the pain. What else would you pay big money for sight (or in this case taste) unseen?  In the short term, markets are inefficient. In the long term, markets figure it out. Wine is just another commodity. Unless wine can be branded so that consumers think that they are buying something much better than equivalent products, the price will revert to the mean (that is it becomes worth less if it is over priced relative to other products that cannot be differentiated). Think perfume. It is advertising, promotion, and distribution that determines price. And, there is the phenomenon that if it costs more it is better. But, there are no “investments” in perfume so far as I know. And I doubt that very old perfumes are worth more than new ones. In fact, it is probably the opposite as I assume perfumes deteriorate over time.  Moreover, if the perfume is no longer in production, it is probably because consumers have tired of it. So for wine consumers, I think it is folly to chase numbers unless you have no confidence in your own tasting abilities. If you are buying wines because you like the newest big numbers wine and want to drink it soon, go for it. But, if you are buying something because you think there is a greater fool to take you out over a long period of time, good luck! This is a fool’s paradise! Wine is not perfume. I cannot remember how many big numbers wines I have put into the dump bucket. And, as time goes by, more and more people are doing  the same thing. So, again, for those of you who buy big numbers and think that you are going to make a killing flipping it instead of drinking it, you are in a fantasy land. This is a game of musical chairs.

And, getting back to what I said earlier, almost everyday I get email offers that some big numbers wine is now 20-70% off. Why? Duh! It is obvious. The wine was over priced to begin with. Just for the fun of it I bought a fair amount of wines from a well known website that seems to be supported by one big numbers critic. His name is constantly quoted as if he is the ultimate arbitrator of  taste.  Most of the wines I bought were no great bargains even at the greatly “reduced” price.  And, just as an aside, there are more and more terrific wines that you can buy for your wine drinking enjoyment available every day both on line and in stores. There is a buyers market in wine that has been around for several years and it is increasing! With world wide production continuing to go up, I see no reason for this to change anytime soon. Caveat Emptor!

If you have someone you trust and have similar tastes, go for it! Oh, for the days of the traditional wine merchants who bought what they liked and recommended it to their customers. They had skin in the game and their reputation was on the line. Their success was determined by the value they offered their customers. And, they stood by what they sold based on their taste. Today there are still a few around. But for most wine merchants it is just a numbers flip. So many of them only sell numbers. They call themselves “wine merchants,” but that is a joke. Most of them just sit and wait for a number and once they get the blessing from above, they pounce like dogs on a bone. It is just a numbers game and nearly everyone is playing it the same. This is a train wreck in the making.  Have you ever thought about how many of these people there are now posting the big numbers? Big numbers tasters who used to be a few have morphed into a big number of people to give out big numbers scores. A lot of people don’t seem to care who did the tasting or how the wine was tasted. They only want the number. How much sense does that make? And, geez, why do you suppose that is? Do you think it has anything to do with money? Well, you bet your bippy that  it has everything to do with money. Who cares whose name is on the number? Who cares what the track record is of the person who is blasting out the big numbers? Well, I do. And, in ever increasing numbers, other wine consumers are paying attention as well. This game is long in the tooth.

But, always remember the best thing for you as a wine consumer is to Drink What You Like & Like What You Drink.  And If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Drink It! But, if you screw up in the case of the latter and get an old maid, you can always play the Blending  Game! (See my earlier articles on blending.)  There you don’t have to have numbers to win the blending game, only your personal taste! And if you keep blending you will come out  a winner!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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  • Charlito says:

    Great article John. Points belong in football, basketball and baseball 🙂

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