There is one way to solve all of the problems caused by scores, the Wine Magazines, and snobby wine writers. It's blind tasting.
The Wine Curmudgeon was reminded of this twice last week. The first time came when I was doing a wine tasting as part of the Two Wine Guys. We ran through our paces and took questions at the end, as we always do. And the questions, as they unfortunately too often do, started with "My husband and I only drink cabernet sauvignon. ..." and "Can you recommend any $30 wine, because inexpensive wine isn't any good ..."
Then, over the weekend, I judged the San Diego International Wine Competition, put together by the inestimable Robert Whitley (which was much fun and where I learned quite a bit, which I'll write about later). When one judges, one tastes blind. That is, you know it's chardonnay, but that's all you know. What don't you know? Where the wine is from and and how much it costs, the two factors that unduly influence too many wine drinkers -- even experienced ones.
After the jump, how blind tasting works and why everyone should try it:
In a competition, for example, we'll taste 10 wines, one after the other, knowing only the varietal. We have to decide whether the wine is medal worthy, and the only thing we have to go on is what it tastes like -- no price, no cute label, no score; just what's in the glass.
This is both a sobering experience and a tremendously liberating one. That's because you'll taste wines you like and pass them by, unaware that you even tasted them. It's happened to me many times. Conversely, you'll give a medal to something you wouldn't give a second thought to when it's on the liquor store shelf.
Which is why everyone, at some time, should taste blind. This will enable you to leave your prejudices behind and approach the wine without any preconceived notions about what you like or don't like. Hate merlot? Have someone pour you six glasses of different kinds of red wine, and see if you can even tell which is the merlot. Or, even better, have them pour you six different kinds of merlot (without you knowing it, of course), and see if you even notice that it's a varietal you don't like.
My favorite blind tasting story involves a Missouri norton, which I gave to a pal who knows way more about wine than I do. Nortons are big, strong, peppery, manly wines, but they come from Missouri. This means they are automatically inferior, regardless of quality. So my pal tastes the norton and waxes poetic about this beautiful Australian shiraz I have given him. It was some damn fine waxing, too. His reaction when I told him what it was? "Curse you, Jeff Siegel, and your evil ways!" (He has always been a bit melodramatic.)
Blind tasting is one of the best ways to learn about wine, and I recommend it whenever I can. I tried to recommend during the Two Wine Guys event, but it fell on deaf ears. Some people, I'm afraid, don't want to be liberated.