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Monday Manifestos
I Say 95 Points—You Say “Amen”

By Stephen Eliot

There is a reason why people like the wines of Romanee-Conti, and it is not because of point scores. We all say “Amen” to great wine because we recognize it as great.

The nature and worth of expertise is regular grist for the mill of the wine blogoshere, and, while more often than not often the bête noire of the Hosemaster’s poodles*, the notion of expertise is occasionally discussed with a bit of thought and sense.

The topic was obliquely revisited earlier this week by Matt Kramer in his declaration that the biggest, most damnable lie about wine is that a wine’s quality is simply based on an individual’s subjective likes and dislikes; that, as he says, “if you like it, it’s good”. Ah yes, back to the belief that beauty lies solely in the eye of the beholder and the drone of those whose appreciation of wine begins and ends with the claim that all you need is a trust in your own palate. No sir, there ain’t no elitists here.

Now, I share Matt’s consternation on several levels, but to call the idea that “if you like it, it’s good” the greatest lie about wine is going a little too far. I understand that the calculus of making wine easy and accessible is good for the business, and anything that makes people more comfortable in the confounding world of wine is alright by me. Insofar as we are talking about the casual wine drinker or the tyro just starting out, a simple up or down vote depending on an uncritical gulp is just fine. Why bother to understand or know why you happen to like this or that wine when simply liking it is enough? I for one am glad for this kind of populism that invites new folks to the market.

But, I would make the case that fine wine like fine food and a good many of life’s finer things is an acquired taste. At some point the notion of what is “good” changes and arguably becomes less dependent on each and every individual taster.

I do not happen to think that experience and education makes one elitist. No, they are the path to expertise. They make us discerning and more attuned to the details and small differences that make fine wine from one to the next so utterly unique and involving. The devil is not in the details, the real pleasure is. Curiosity, discovery and the sharp eye -- or palate -- to make it, is what true expertise and connoisseurship is about.

Oh, there are those with money to burn who will gulp down Grand Crus because of an abiding need to consume only the best, but do they know the difference between Margaux, Coonawara and Napa? Do they care? No more, I suspect, than the on-and-off-again imbiber looking at the grocery store shelf for a $8.00 bottle of Merlot. I do have the sense, however, by what I see and hear every day that there are a whole lot of people who do, and they are the next generation of real connoisseurs.

We now live in a world of infinitely available information. The drive to know has accordingly increased with the means to do so. To be sure, the internet has spawned plenty of mindless electronic blather, but it also compels us all to being permanent students, and, as the number of serious students of wine must surely increase, the idea that “good” is relative will become a tougher sell.

I think that Mr. Kramer’s “biggest lie” is on its way to becoming a bit smaller.

* please see

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