Tasting wine? Don’t try so hard

I wrote a post recently, “Aromatic whites, including Albarino, come of age,” which was sort of a general musing on the new popularity of these wines, a development I fully support because they can be lovely. Among the comments my post got was this one, which I’m reproducing in full because I want to make several points:

Hi there. I recently put together a blind tasting that largely focused on white spanish varietals: verdejo, viura/macaebo, and albarino. I also poured what I thought could be some imposters (e.g. pinot grigio). I generally found that the spanish varietals were quite difficult to tell apart…from my research, the albarino is typically represented by the combination of more intense aromatics (especially peach and stone fruit) and having the most bracing acidity – compared to verdejo and viura macabeo.

From the limited selection of wines I showed…this premise seemed to hold true. HOWEVER, all the wines did seem VERY similar to me…I think it was difficult to tell the difference between them. Of course, knowing what specific qualities differentiate the grape varieties would be helpful, lol!

Soo…..I’d love to know your thoughts! Do you think my assessment of albarino is correct? If not, what might I be missing? I’d really like to understand more of these great spanish whites.

My first reaction was, My goodness, what is it about us that makes us work so hard to find the slightest minute differences between wines? I replied,

I agree that these whites all all very similar. Perhaps you’re trying too hard to tell them apart. It’s a distinction without a difference.

I’ve always thought there’s a strain of behavior in our wine crowd that tries to over-sciencize the art and pleasure of wine tasting. We go about it like laboratory technicians, or MBAs studying the tax code, instead of people who simply love wine, and love talking about it. Personally, I never got too deep into that kind of thing. When I was starting out, I’d hear debates between people with a lot more experience than I had about whether that aroma was peach pit or apricot pit, and I’d think, “Jeez, is this the club I’m trying to join?” Another version of the debate was whether or not the wine was “lightstruck.” It seemed so pointless to me, because one person was going to stick with what he found, the other person would stick with what he found, they’d never agree, they were talking past each other, and it was all unprovable anyway. So why even bother to have the debate?

I’m not saying we should dumb down our wine tasting conversations. But I do think beginners, especially, over-sciencize it. They think that Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine and Famous Wine Critics sit around and detect these distinctions with pinpoint accuracy, and so they should try to do it, too. The fact is, as one gets more experienced as a taster, one loses interest in what kind of stone fruit the wine smells like, or exactly which berry shows up in the middle palate. Instead one begins to think and write in terms of more abstract elements, such as structure, grace, elegance, harmony, precision, focus and balance–or the lack thereof. These are very easy to discern, if you understand what they are. (And blind tasting is the best way to do it.) We might not all be able to agree on precise aromas and flavors, but, in general, experienced tasters will agree on these more sublime qualities.


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