There’s a problem with how wine is generally evaluated critically. It’s evaluated by tasters but generally consumed by drinkers and this has led, at least in part, to the emergence of the ripe, full-bodied monolithic “cocktail wine” as the predominant style of wine produced and consumed in America. These are wines which, when tasted and spit out an ounce or two at a time, offer some degree of immediate reward. They pack a lot of flavor and are immediately comprehensible. As I’ve said before, they’re the big-breasted blonde at the strip club who might be fun for a few minutes but if you drink the whole bottle you’ll end up with a splitting headache and giant alimony payments.
Enjoying and evaluating a bottle of wine is an extended courtship process, but so much of the process that determines which wines succeed in (or even make it to) the marketplace is done through speed dating. In a couple ounces and a few minutes of evaluation, retail and restaurant wine buyers make decisions, ageworthiness is evaluated, wine critics issue scores and the marketplace is shaped. Life-long (or at least multi-year) commitments are made in what amounts to a process of serial sport-fucking.
That’s not to say there aren’t sport-fucking wines that don’t also reward an extended encounter, but the overlap between the two is far from complete. The average consumer, however, is looking for a wine to enjoy over an evening while the critic is looking to assess all that mystery in a swish and spit; it’s like picking a spouse based on her (or his) Surra de Bunda acumen.
The worth of a wine can never be fully evaluated until you’ve walked a mile in its tiny grape moccasins, or at least consumed a full glass with a few bites of cured meat or other wine-appropriate food and the best that critic, waiter, or retailer can do is guide the customer in the right direction and hope the stars line up.
Wine tasting isn’t going to go away because it can’t. It’s impossible to be a wine professional and do one’s job effectively without either tasting and spitting or dying of alcohol poisoning. While the good tasters are quite good at extrapolating a modestly accurate impression of a wine based on those tastes, there will nevertheless remain this disconnect between how wines are evaluated and why wines are drunk and I’m not sure what can be done about it.