Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of odd-ball wines –orange wines, anfora-aged wines, and non-dosage champagne to name a few– that tasted far different from anything else I’d ever had. These wines expanded my palate and made me think, “I didn’t know wine could taste like that.” But I’ve been surprised at how often some of these wines fall short of my expectations when I revisit them. Which is why I’ve made it my new year’s resolution to try to differentiate between wines that I think are “interesting” from those that I consider “good,” i.e., wines that I want to drink time and time again.
Don’t get me wrong — “interesting” and “good” aren’t mutually exclusive categories. In fact, the most memorable wines are often both interesting and good (and this includes many examples from the types of wines I called out in the prior paragraph). What troubles me is how the fetishization of certain wines sometimes overshadows discussion of the most basic measure of a wine’s quality: would you buy another bottle?
I know I’ve been guilty of this. Because Bordeaux and Burgundy are too far out of my price range, I’ve had to placate my desire to learn more about wine by largely ignoring these highly touted regions. I chose instead to explore as many different regions and types of wine as possible. The weirder and more obscure the better. I’d hunt these types of wine down like a teenager searching through a used record store trying to dig out the hard-to-find single from a band barely anyone had ever heard of. This brings to mind a line from Jon Cusak’s character in the film adaptation of High Fideity:
“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here, mostly young men who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original–not rereleased (underlined)–Frank Zappa albums. Fetish properties are not unlike porn.”
But at the end of the day, did I buy that album because I actually liked the music, or because it was so hard to find, or because I thought it would win me some points with the hipsters? It’s hard to say.
I’m not the only one that has fallen into this trap. Even wine professionals sometimes blur the line between geeky wines and wines that people actually enjoy. As a somm friend of mine recently posted on Twitter: “Dearest sommelier: It’s okay if people don’t always buy the coolest wine on your list.”
There’s nothing wrong with trying the weird and wacky, and I’ll continue to do so. But shouldn’t we measure those wines for their quality (structure, complexity, balance), and not just for their novelty?
Going forward, if you see me refer to a wine as “interesting,” it means that I liked it and am willing to try it again, but am holding out on recommending it until I’ve had it a second time. I know drinking the same wine may sound gauche. According to this HuffPost piece, “drinking the same wine twice [is viewed] as a wine geek faux pas.” But screw the wine geekerati — if I like a wine, I’m going to drink it again, not just to figure out if it’s as good as I remembered it, but to see how it’s changed in the bottle over time. By doing so, I hope to put some limits on my geeky-wine fetish.