I often wonder whether there’s really much value in blind tastings, even though I participate in them regularly.
It’s a completely unnatural way to taste wine. You’re simply confronted with a glass of something red, or something white, and asked to evaluate it.
Life’s not like that.
Wine’s not like that.
Wine is supposed to part of a whole experience. We share it with friends, we drink it to celebrate or to mourn or to mark a special occasion. We even drink it as a religious symbol.
Take away the company and the setting and the occasion and we might as well drink Coke.
So when a wine judge allocates an 18 out of 20 score, or declares a wine to be a gold medal or five-star winner, what does it mean?
Is this a wine to be enjoyed while wearing a white coat and sitting alone in a tiled tasting booth? If so, it’s of no interest to 99% of wine drinkers. We don’t live like that.
If your host at a dinner party produces a special bottle of 1979 Pinotage to drink with his wife’s perfectly prepared leg of Karoo lamb, you know you’re in for a treat. The whole event becomes special. You take time to sniff the wine appreciatively, look at its deep garnet colour and sip its matured elegance. You expect it to be fine, so it is.
You’ll remember that wine forever. He wouldn’t dream of making you drink the wine without giving you a clue what it is. Expectation is part of the magic.
But line it up with 30 other Pinotages and spend two minutes with it and it’s just another wine.
Tastings and ratings are all very well for those who make wine, but maybe they’re irrelevant for those who just love drinking the stuff.
In real life a bottle of Chateau Libertas shared with friends around the braai on a warm summer evening is more memorable – and probably more enjoyable – than a bottle of Chateau Petrus sipped in a laboratory booth.
We seem to be bombarded with wine competitions, shows and challenges. Every day brings another batch of medal winners and class champions.
I suspect these may be of interest only because so many wine drinkers are afraid to be seen drinking something unfashionable.
“I’ll buy this one because it won a gold medal so it must be good.”
I know several people who keep a box of cheap wine on the kitchen counter for everyday drinking. They all apologise if you notice it. Why?
Because somebody else thinks it’s not good?
Many people actually enjoy eating rocket, or coriander. I think they’re horrible foods.
But I don’t force myself to eat them because they’re “fashionable” or because the sainted Jamie Oliver thinks they’re good.
So why should I care a jot what the great Robert Parker thinks of the wine I enjoy?