In some ways, being a wine drinker with a terrible palate is better than being a wine drinker with a refined palate. Bear with me for a moment, because it makes sense, I promise.
I am a wine drinker and for several years I tried to parlay that enjoyment into being a wine enthusiast, if not exactly a wine snob. I read wine books and magazines and looked at wine web sites and listened to wine podcasts. I tried to understand how to drink and evaluate wine in order to smell and taste all the various elements: oak, dirt, red cherry, citrus fruit, even cat pee. (Yes really, certain varieties of wine have cat pee in their taste profile as a good thing.) I bought good wine and put it in an online database as if I were amassing a cellar instead of a handful of bottles. I even bought a very expensive Burgundy when Isabella was born with the expectation of it maturing when she turned 18.
And yet, I never got it. Yes, I could sometimes taste or smell the extreme profiles (like cat pee or citrus), but subtle flavors like chocolate or mahogany eluded me. No waxing rhapsodic on the subtle nuances and qualities of the wine for me. I finally had to conclude that I was never going to be able to tell the difference between fine wine and cheap wine for any bottle under about $50 or $60 retail.
Wine Drinker, not Enthusiast
You know what? That’s awesome! It means I’m free. I’m free to buy the wine in the sale bin based on the varietal (e.g. chardonnay or pinot noir) or geography (e.g. Burgundy or Port) instead of whether it’s “worthy”. I could be just a wine drinker who enjoys wine.
Sure I can taste enough difference that I know I prefer Sauvignon blanc from New Zealand over those from other regions, for example, but when I look at two dozen California pinot noirs in the racks at the wine shop I don’t have to agonize over the “right” one because they all taste the same to me. (Most consumers who aren’t wine enthusiasts, but simply wine drinkers, buy based on the pretty label anyway.)
So in this case ignorance really is bliss. I know I can walk into a wine store, buy whatever’s on sale for $5, $10, $15 per bottle and be pretty sure I’ll like it. If I were a wine expert, I imagine I’d have to spend a lot more time finding something to please my expert taste buds. As a wine drinker, I can just enjoy the wine.
- For wine that retails above $60, I have to admit I can taste the difference. I’ve had a truly amazing $90 Barolo once and other wines in that rarified company a few times, but I’m almost certainly never going to be able to drink those on more than rare occasions. ↩
- “How much do the labels on wine bottles influence what we buy?”, Vinepair.com ↩
Photo: “0007-sdj2010-PTK 2474 klein” by VictoriaDruschel 01 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:0007-sdj2010-PTK_2474_klein.jpg#/media/File:0007-sdj2010-PTK_2474_klein.jpg