Ah…. to be young and full of opinions.
L.A. Times columnist Joel Stein demonstrated today that spouting opinons is the folly of the uninformed.
In his column today, he says: “When wine drinkers tell me they taste notes of cherries, tobacco and rose petals, usually all I can detect is a whole lot of jackass. ” before admitting that “part of my problem is that I have a weak sense of smell”. Well, that makes him perfectly qualified to comment on all things wine! To remove all doubt, he declares Zinfandel to be “[America's] greatest native grape [sic]“.
Joel’s bio does not indicate any wine education beyond his report in the article that he watches Gary Vaynechuk. I like Gary and I think that he does a lot to educate budding wine lovers and to encourage them to learn about wine. But Stein misses the fundamental tenet of what Gary is about: There are a myriad of aromas, textures and flavors in wine and Vaynerchuk regularly references these when describing wines on his show. Gary also emphasizes training one’s palate by smelling and tasting different things and then trying to identify those same components in wine.
Each industry, profession and movement has its own parlance which followers, fans and enthusiasts adopt. The aromas, flavors and textures of wine have been used (for a long time before Joel and I were born) to assess wines and to make quality, blending and food pairing decisions. Certainly, there is some silly wine talk and wiritng out there. But for the most part, it is concise and communicates meaningful information about the stuff in the bottle.
In lieu of an informed assessment (or even the accepted banter of the wine culture), Stein wants to see tasting notes and discussions about wine limited to 3 things and beyond that we should come up with some contrived analogy or metaphor for the wine. Yes, let’s take an established culture, science and industry and bend it to the will of the uninformed and inexperienced neophyte.
Analogies and metaphors are nice and interesting, but they differ from person to person. I associate women’s Eternity with fraternity parties with girls in tight neon clothing and beer-soaked carpets – which were the staples of the college party scene when I was an undergraduate. That may not be the same for everyone. They are also contingent on past experienes and depth of knowledge. So I wonder if Stein would still feel Zinfandel to taste “like America: big, bold, unsubtle and ready to fight” if he knew it was actually Croatia’s Crljenak Kaštelanski.
The language of wine has persisted over many years because of its ability to speak across the boundaries of personal preferences and associations. It is through the exploration of the aromas, flavors, textures and nuances of wine that individuals arrive at their own personal associations and transcendental moments. The exploration itself can be quite fun, educational and reawrding as well.
Stein’s approach to the subject matter betrays his ignorance about wine and his unwillingness to explore his own senses of smell and taste. Beyond that, it engages in a xenophobic exercise: If he can’t smell it, then this whole wine smell mumbo jumbo is unfounded. Worse than that, it tells people who may have the ability to develop their palates that there is no point in trying. If Joel can’t smell it, then nobody will!
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