My copy of the book, The Wine Trials, arrived last week (that's the Wine Curmudgeon on page XIII in the blind tasters credits). The Wine Trials, of course, is the 189-page effort from author and critic Robin Goldstein that shows that wine drinkers pay more attention to price than they do quality.
Two things struck me as I thumbed through the book:
First, there were few revelations about which cheap wines are good. Most of the wines listed in the book are not shockers, and those of us who pay attention to these things have been drinking them for years. The book cites the Bogle and Avalon brands, and regular visitors here know those are among my favorites. The Bogle is in the $10 Hall of Fame. In fact, a whole bunch of my Hall of Fame wines are listed in the book, including Solaz and Vitiano. (Wine Curmudgeon reaching around to pat himself on the back.)
I'd quibble about some of the choices, like the Barefoot wines, which did well but have never impressed me. Too simple, even for the $6 price. And there weren't enough roses in the top 100, but that might have been an availability issue. The blind tastings took place between April and February, the last six months of which are not rose season.
But these are just quibbles. Almost every wine listed in the book is a value, and it's a little scary that I have tasted two-thirds of the top 100. I guess I do take this job seriously.
The other thing that struck me is that Goldstein, who goes to such lengths to make his points, including appendices and footnotes, seems to have overlooked one of the most basic reasons why Americans fall prey to Wine Magazines, scores, and pricing. We don't drink enough wine.
Don't get me wrong. I agree with the book's conclusion: $100 wine is usually not 10 times better than $10 wine. But one reason we have such a difficult time figuring that out is that we don't even drink much $10 wine. Wine consumption in the U.S. is about one bottle per person per month. It's more than six times that in France and Italy. How are we supposed to know what wine tastes like when we drink it so infrequently?
I always use a football analogy to explain this. If all you do is watch football a couple of times a year, you'll never be able to understand what's going on. It's just a bunch of big, fat guys falling on each other. But if you watch it frequently, and watch it with others, the game makes more sense more quickly. Yet how many of us drink wine with others and talk about it the way we talk about football?
Equally as important: Every football fan is an instant expert, ready to argue with each other, the media, and their team's coach. How often does that happen in wine? Even regular wine drinkers are terrified of the experts, let alone those who drink it infrequently. People are even afraid to tell me how they feel about a particular wine, and I ask them to. Their answer almost always begins: "Well, I'm no expert, but. …"
This answer, not surprisingly, drives me crazy. They are experts, if they will only let themselves be. And that means drinking more wine, and drinking different kinds of wine. I'm not smarter or better than most wine drinkers. I know more because I drink more wine. And if I can do that, anyone can.