What do we taste when we drink wine? Answer: Everything we know
From The New Yorker, this article by Maria Konnikova will open your eyes to the wild world of wine tasting. Maria describes a simple task, given two wines and two sets of tasting notes, could she and 130 others match the tasting notes to the correct wines. The results were surprising, in fact they were no better than if people had described them at random. In reality, tasting notes have become so elaborate and non-sensical, that they have lost all use and function. Which begs the question, what the hell do we taste when we drink wine?
In reality, everything is subject to the environment that you are in. Nothing can ever be tasted or experienced in a vacuum. Environment affects your mood, which affects how you taste and accept everything. Not just for wine, but for food, for music, for art. So why should wine be any different. We argue more and more that the jargon we use to describe wine is getting out of hand, and it is. It has become so elaborate that it has become useless for the most part. Still it affects how we taste and what we taste. The more elaborate the description of the tasting notes, the more we expect. The more we know about the history of the vineyard, the winemaker, the growers, the more emotionally connected we become with the wine. We expect great things, and in our expectations we try to taste things that we are told are there. There is great power in suggestion and in realization. When I pointed out the popcorn like aftertaste of a white wine the sommelier would not believe me, then sipped it and tasted it.
Even price points affect what we taste and how much we enjoy a wine. Tell a person that a wine is a luxury, or that this particular bottle cost $100 (given that it is a massive premium for most drinkers) and you would be hard pressed to find a person who rejects it. A $40 bottle will taste better than a $20 bottle when put head to head and tasters being told the difference in price. Why? Apparently as humans we like to spend money, it makes us feel good. The more expensive something is the more we enjoy it. Same for wine, same for a pair of fucking jeans. It makes you feel better, and you will believe that you are tasting something better. Surely there has to be another way that cuts through the bullshit, but accepts the reality?
What we taste in wine is everything, ever. What we taste is affected by past experiences and current context. Memories are multiplied by mood and the context in which we are drinking. Understanding wine is more than just being able to pair Chardonnay with seafood, or being able to taste plums and leather in a Grenache, or recognizing whatever the fashionable jargon is at the moment.
Being able to enjoy wine to its fullest is much more important than that, and a heck of a lot more personal. Drinking wine is about picking the right wine for the right occasion, one that fits your mood and your fancy. Picking the right wine for the quiet dinner party, or the right wine for the raging summer BBQ. It is like picking a song or artist to listen to. It is about elevating the experience with wine, something that sparks old memories, and turns experiences into new memories. Wine does not just pair with your food, but pairs with your mood, how you feel, and what you want in that moment. The perfect Cabernet Sauvignon when you are deep in thought, discussing life with your best friend, or a cheap Pinot Noir when you snuggle up alongside your partner watching Seinfeld reruns on Netflix. This is how to drink wine, and this is how we should phrase and talk about wine. This is the Vynl approach to wine, connecting you with the wine that suits you, that captures the moment, that captures your heart.
These days we are told to cut a wine into 5000 parts to see if all the components are right. Instead you should just take a sip and see if it goes directly to your heart. A wine should make you feel something.