Thursday, March 3, 2011

The true wine dichotomy

In his recent New York Times column, and subsequent blog post, Eric Asimov boiled the choices for describing wine down to two words: sweet and savory. Asimov declares that many tasting notes "only succeed in making wines incomprehensible" and suggests using one of those two words to describe all wines. While he is being overly simplistic in his descriptive efficiency, he is also has the dichotomy wrong. If wine descriptions are to be reduced to two choices, a better dichotomy for the consumer is whether the wine is worthy of buying or not.

As people experience sweetness and savoriness in different ways, and if two broad categories are able to "explain more about the essence of any bottle than the most florid, detailed analogies ever could," what better categories are there than saying a wine is worth your hard earned money? After all, that really is the reason for all the descriptive words, badges and scores thrown around by every critic, writer, journalist, blogger and wine guru these days.

Many consumers have a mental rubric into which they input all those data just to compute the binary purchase decision (to buy or not to buy?). Why don't all tasting notes tell consumers whether they should buy a wine or not? The answer may or may not surprise you. It is because wine is a complex and dynamic product. I don't mean so complex that consumers can't understand it, but complex in the sense that tastes, preferences and circumstances are varied and change over time. They change as both a person's palate and wine's characteristics evolve. If wine description is stripped to its simplest elements as Asimov attempts to do, then the discourse and individual choice that it evokes will be lost.


  1. While I tend to agree with Asimov about the extent to which the notes have been extended to include all manner of perceived esoteric aromas and flavors (which, like fingerprints, are quite idiosyncratic)I'm of the untested opinion that it's the RATING NUMBER that is the relevant detail.

    If market researchers were to ask buying consumers why they purchased a particular WA or WS recommendation, I believe they would remember nary a one descriptor that snagged them and triggered the purchase of the wine. It was the "95."

  2. Tom, I begrudginly agree with you. Unfortunately, most people only describe wine in terms of numbers. The current ratings dichotomy is 90+ and everthing else. My main point was that we need to think more broadly about wine, especially when it comes to points. I am not a proponent of using points because wine is more than numbers in a bottle. The most important part of wine is if you like it; hence my buy it or not dichotomy. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Taste vary from each person so the selection of wine is complex.

  4. Austrailan - that is true and that is why there are more than two kind of wines! Thanks for reading and commenting. Hope to see you back in the future!