Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party, and want to serve just the right wine. While the labels on the backs of wine bottles might be useful, it’s important to remember that those labels are sometimes more of a marketing technique than dependable tasting notes. The same goes for the tasting notes retailers often put on the display. In both cases, you should always ask yourself: Am I buying the wine, or buying the description?
Many people don’t think wine tasting is a profession or even a job. But I have nothing but respect for my peers, and I take what I do very seriously. Sure, all that sniffing, swirling, gargling, and spitting is way more fun than working in a meatpacking plant. But it’s still a job that requires dedication, patience, and knowledge. Trained sommeliers spend a lifetime understanding wines and the regions they come from. But will you really know who wrote the tasting notes on the back of a bottle of wine.
If you think wine connoisseurship is nonsense, blind tasting data suggest otherwise. Data consistently shows that in blind tastings the professional routinely identifies not only the wine but the region and the vintage. And the really good ones will also tell you who the producer is, too. Just ask the seven new Masters admitted to the Masters of wine Seven new Masters of Wine last week. There are fewer than 400 of them worldwide.
The only way to understand wine is to taste wine and learn what the general markers are for any given wine from any given region. If you like cabernet sauvignon, try some from different regions around the world so you can taste the nuances for yourself. For instance, a well-made California cabernet sauvignon has beautiful notes of black currant, black cherry, licorice, and tobacco. But the label on an entry-level bottle of a cabernet sauvignon might tell you the same thing. Different varietals suggest different notes. For instance, would you really be able to detect “autumn dried leaves and leather” from a lesser wine? The more you taste, the more you’ll be able to discern how accurate the description is, and what styles you like best.
Next time you read the back of a wine bottle, ask yourself if you’re reading professional tasting notes, written by a connoisseur, or a marketing come-on. Knowing what markers to look for will help, but ultimately, only by tasting will you know.