I pride myself on knowing a little bit of wine. But am I an expert? Not when it comes to doing a blind tasting. Sometimes I know what I’m tasting, but sometimes I don’t. On a particular day, I might get a bunch of blind tastes right. On the very next day, I’m likely to get a bunch wrong. What’s going on? Why is wine so confusing?
Three Reasons that Wine Is So Confusing
There is so much to choose from. For starters, there are so many wines. Reds vs. whites vs. pinks vs. sparklings vs. ports and other dessert wines. Digging into reds, Merlot vs. Cabernet vs. Zinfandel vs. Syrah, plus hundreds of others. Digging into whites, is it Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling or hundreds of others. And across all types, are you tasting a young wine or an aged wine? A wine that saw oak or that didn’t see oak? A wine from a well-known winery or a wine from an up-and-coming winery? A wine from America? A wine from Europe? A wine from Australia? A wine from South Africa? Lots of choices!
Wine labels aren’t very helpful. When you see that a particular wine is a Riesling, does the label tell you if it’s a sweet Riesling or an off-dry Riesling? No, it doesn’t. Why? Well, Vox suggests that it’s because wine label regulations are controlled by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, not the Food and Drug Administration. Madeline Pucket from Wine Folly argues that “The wine label doesn’t speak to the consumer. Every country does it differently, and countries do it for tax purposes, not for the consumer’s benefit.”
Your current favorite wine will never be the same again. This comes straight from Wine Folly who says very sadly, “You find a wine you love! However, when you order more, you swear it tastes different then you remember. Sure enough, looking at the label you realize it’s not the same vintage as your “nummy num-nums” wine.” Pucket goes on to say that “Knowing that vintage variation occurs is part of what makes wine an adventure because you are like a treasure hunter always looking for the next great find.”
Overcoming These Challenges
Have humor. One of the best ways to overcome these challenges is to have a good sense of humor. If the people you hang out with in the wine world don’t have a good sense of humor, think about trading them in. Seriously. Wine is supposed to be fun. So make sure you’re hanging out with folks who are ready to have fun.
Learnings are positive. Accept all learnings as learnings. Learnings are always a good thing. When you are surprised in a blind tasting to discover that a particular wine that you were quite certain was a Sauvignon Blanc is actually an unoaked Chardonnay, you’re learning something. If you really like Sauvignon Blanc, now you can add unoaked Chardonnay to your list of wines that you like.
Drink often. Last but not least, drink wine as often as you can, and mix it up. Sure, you have your favorite wines, and you should probably drink those at least once a week. But try other wines that you like – from different wineries, from different countries, from different appelations. And try wines you’ve never heard of. The more tastings you do, the more likely you will be able to recognize common characteristics of different types of wines.