January 10, 2013

On Liking What You Want

Today, the Academy Award nominations were announced.  Many of my friends, myself included, had strong opinions about the nominations, proclaiming who they were excited for, or who was snubbed.  At the end of the day, however, there is no scientific way to determine which movie is ACTUALLY the best--the Academy Awards are still decided by the opinions and tastes of a small voting body, even if the award is considered influential.  Same with music, or visual arts, or food.  Everyone is entitled to their own tastes.  I like Ben Affleck, and think he should have received a directing nod for Argo, and expressed my surprise, but I would never purport that my opinion is fact or that winning an Oscar makes it fact, either.

That's why wine ratings irritate me.  Yes, many venerable journalists and wine enthusiasts have developed methods to determine which wines THEY prefer over others, but at the end of the day, it is still a matter of opinion.  When the average consumer goes to the store to buy a bottle of wine, they are drawn to those dang rating stickers like moth to flame.  I recently tried a very mediocre wine that a store had proclaimed was a 94.  Likewise, one of my favorites graded on that same scale barely broke an 80.  As someone who was an overachiever in school, I would much rather buy the 94 wine--why would I buy a B- wine when I could get an A?!?  These rankings are misleading, and do a disservice to some wines that people might like, that never even receive a fancy grade placard at the store.

For what it's worth:  Snooth recently posted the article that got me thinking about wine ratings, and it, and the comments, are worth a read. 

I've been reading quite a few general-information wine books lately, and some authors--despite writing a book that is supposed to be impartial, or informational-- can't help throwing in there that "many people"  dislike Zinfandel or Merlot.  Many people meaning....snobs?  Because that's certainly the picture painted in the movie Sideways ("No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving!")

Here are two wines that some think may make me a bad wine snob.  Both are delicious, and are generally under $20.

You know what?  I love Merlot.  Sometimes more than I like Miles Raymond's beloved Pinot Noir.  Why am I so insecure about that? I read articles that tell me why Zinfandel is too alcoholic and therefore un-classy, or articles that tell me a wine that I love for $10 is pedestrian and not worth my time.   Why do I continue to read those articles?

I like to be informed, for one.  I like to read what people find interesting and influential and important.  I like knowing about the vintage of Bordeaux that I may never be able to afford or get to taste in my life. I read about a rare Pinot Noir when I know it's not my favorite.   I soak up information, and use the advice of authors or experts to help guide me.  

That's why it's worrisome to me that some wine writers take their opportunity to access readers of all stripes, and malign a particular winery, varietal, or region that a potential new reader might enjoy.

When I first starting drinking wine, I loved Merlot.  Loved it's softness and thought it was a great sipping wine.  Now, every time I open a Merlot, I feel like I'm sneaking a guilty pleasure.  The French have been making Merlot-laden Bordeaux blends for a long time--need they feel guilty about that?  Merlot is popular. Why alienate people who like Merlot?  

In this economy, I think it would behoove the wine industry and wine writers to broaden their horizons a bit.  Sometimes, the best bottle of wine is the one that you like enough to drink every time you have pizza--which may be every Friday.  I gladly scoop up articles where people list their favorite wines under $20 because that's currently what I can afford.  I'm glad when I can even find half the wines on those "budget" lists.  Most of my local wine stores don't even carry them.

I'm not saying all wine writers should start waxing poetic about Franzia (sorry, Franzia), but there's more out there than bottles that might cost me my entire paycheck, or force me to fly halfway around the world, or call five wine stores to locate it from an obscure distributor.

Let's all agree that snobbery is out.  Elitism and pretense is out.  Disliking something solely because it is widely available is out.  Have your opinions.  Write about them.  Free speech is a beautiful thing.  But the wine world is greater than the opinions of a few.  Wouldn't it be great to move away from an industry that is riddled with rankings, into one where we can all appreciate good wine without worrying if it's cool or popular or 94 points? 

I sure hope so.

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