September 2, 2018 – Published in Design & Decor Autumn 2018 issue
Wine means different things to different drinkers
Words Albert Cilia-Vincenti
This may sound strange but in fact is very true. As with so many other things, different individuals have different views on wine. So as wine has become more popular with all strata of society in the more prosperous countries, and as the variety of wine producers from different countries has grown enormously, it is interesting to observe how differently wine is regarded by different drinkers.
At one extreme you have serious wine collectors who would buy the most sought after wines when still at the producers in barrels and before bottling (en-primeur) and shipping. Some of this serious wine collecting is so extreme that the wines are never drunk and are “enjoyed” somewhat like an unread library. For others in this category of serious wine collectors, the top wines they acquire are never drunk either, but they are kept for a number of years until they can be sold at a significant profit. For this category of wine aficionados their research into the subject is all about figuring out which are the most sought after wines, somewhat similar to working out which are the most sought after shares on a stock market.
At the other extreme there are many drinkers who have no interest whatsoever in expensive sought after wines, and are perfectly happy with enjoying inexpensive wines now found in great abundance in many supermarkets. Big supermarkets chains may have their own wine buyers who have become very good at selecting inexpensive but pleasant wines. Supermarkets have in fact become quite a significant commercial threat to traditional wine shops.
Between these two extremes of wine purchasers is a vast group of wine aficionados who try their best to identify and drink affordable quality wines. These drinkers would have consulted some books on wine and grape varieties, may subscribe to wine magazines, and may have also paid visits to wine regions in different countries to experience wines in their “natural habitat”. Some of these drinkers may become quite “fanatical” about some wines they perceive as their favourites.
However, assessing wine quality is not as straightforward as one might initially think. Many fall for the perceived direct relationship between quality and price. Better made wines which have ageing potential (when correctly stored) would be expected to be more expensive than simple wines that are best drunk young.
Many in this category of wine lovers would follow recommendations by international wine critics. This may sound an infallible way of finding the right quality wine at the right price. Unfortunately this does not always work out that way.
Almost 20 years ago we set up a blind-tasting wine club with the main purpose of tackling the problem of wine quality assessment. Tasting and assessing wine is always subjective, but the best attempt at objectivity is undoubtedly to taste wine without knowing the label and price. Our club members blind-taste four wines during a dinner and score them anonymously.
In a recent tasting, the four New World Bordeaux style blended red wines tasted were Constantia Glen Three 2008 from South Africa (€17), Coyam 2004 by Emiliana of Chile (€26), Expresivo 2004 by BenMarco of Argentina (€24) and Coleraine 2010 by Te Mata Estate, of New Zealand (€64). The expensive New Zealand wine was most highly rated by international critics, but the average of our members’ scores placed it last preference, while the least expensive wine, the Constantia Glen Three from Cape Town, was scored their top preference.
In another recent club session, members blind-tasted four Bordeaux reds, a 2011 Ch Villa Bel Air, Graves (€21), a 2011 Ch Gruaud-Larose, Saint Julien (€56), a 2012 Ch Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Pauillac (€69) and a 2010 Ch Lucas, Lussac Saint-Emilion (€11). Again, members’ top preference was the less expensive Graves, beating the significantly more expensive and more highly internationally rated Saint Julien and Pauillac wines by a good score margin.
Our members are constantly reminded that the club’s blind format is the best wine tasting teaching programme, as it encourages their confidence in their own wine quality/price ratio judgement, rather than relying entirely on international wine scores.