I was a little ashamed of myself when I walked out of the local supermarket on New Years. I had just bought some Spanish Cava, which can be a very good deal (not worth being ashamed). The problem was that my decision to buy the wine, a Rose from Segura Viudas, was based purely on the tag attached to the bottle proclaiming its great flavour and subsequent high point score from a reputable wine critic. I actually had a moment where I believed that this was my best chance of getting the best quality wine. I was ashamed of myself after because I know there’s no need to approach wine from a point of such uncertainty. Isn’t the point of drinking wine to explore and develop my own palate? Or is it to drink someone else’s favourite wines for the rest of my life? Wine critics are valuable for their insight, writing and opinions, but let’s not give them omnipotence over our own sense of confidence.
Wine writers do not set out to control the market and force people to drink their style of wine (or at least they shouldn’t). Rather, they drink wine for enjoyment and to educate the consumer. The problem is that the later becomes the former because wine is such a difficult subject to feel confident about for a beginner. It just seems like too much information, and we put our tail between our legs and let someone else do the heavy lifting for us. In this sense, it is tough to come to terms with the fact that wine is like golf: no matter how good you are at it you always feel the same sense of frustration. Wine experts are often embarrassed in blind tastings and are constantly discovering new wines.
As a consumer I always strive to approach wine the way I approach any other commodity. For example, if I walked into a shoe store and the clerk said that a particular shoe was rated 98/100 points, I would try on several pairs, critique the ones that were uncomfortable and walk out with what I felt is the best pair. Likewise, if a grocery store clerk told me the green peppers are better than the red ones, I would buy all colours and try to figure out why they said one was better. With wine, we should worry less about buying a wine we might not like, and instead focus on quantifying the reasons we don’t like it. The truth is that there aren’t very many truly bad wines out there, and many highly rated wines are just simply not for everyone. I would have a tough time saying that buying critically acclaimed wines has brought me more success than choosing randomly from the shelf.
Even when buying for investment, I feel the value of a critics rating of top notch Bordeaux, for example, is in the wording of the tasting note rather than the score. Often the style of wine or some of the components of the wines flavour are conveyed that pique my interest. Then I can try the wine myself, or even better with a few close friends, and discuss its merits and faults.