Let me start by saying: I like wine. It definitely has a place on my dinner table. But you won’t hear me take a sip of my Pinot Noir and declare it fruity on the nose, with “notes of stewed rhubarb, fig, dried rose petals, and orange peel.” You will never hear me say that because an embarrassing amount of studies have shown that it is embarrassingly likely that I could try the same wine the next night, and suddenly find it rich with notes of “dried cherry, dried herbs and rose petals, sweet pipe tobacco and dried plum with an ethereal but still showy lightness to the palate” before I realize I just described the exact same wine from the night before. Embarrassing.
Changing my opinions on the flavor profile of one wine would still be less embarrassing than swishing a nice red around for a minute before guessing Merlot, only to be informed by a manically cackling scientist that I just imbibed a white wine dyed red with food coloring (this happened in a real study, too). Many of these studies were helmed by a guy named Frederic Brochet at the University of Bordeaux back in 2001, who had access to unsuspecting oenology undergraduates. Other studies have shown ingrained preferences for wine in expensive bottles versus wine in cheap bottles, even when the wines were actually the same. Tricky scientists. Tricky brains.
Obviously wines do have flavors and characters distinct to themselves; but, as countless studies seem to show, our surroundings, the wine label, cost, and even the provenance of the wine, can all influence expectations and even our taste buds. Unless you’re doing a blind tasting, bandying around descriptors like “charcoal,” “cigar box,” and “fleshy,” doesn’t make a lick of sense. And when it comes to buying a bottle of wine, it doesn’t matter if it costs $20 or $200. Most of the time, the experts can’t even tell the price difference.
So why not do something novel? Get together with a bunch of friends and some bottles of wine, spend a night doing blind taste tests, and discover your favorites that way. Personally, I think having people over for blind tastings and seeing how often we trick ourselves sounds like a good time. And while your new favorite wines may be “jammy,” or “structured,” or “toasty,” I bet not a one of them will have any notes of bull.
Oh, and in case you were wondering… all quoted wine descriptions are from real published articles.
By Mica Habarad