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Wednesday Warblings
In Defense of the “Educated Palate”

By Stephen Eliot

Is wine appreciation all a bunch of subjective nonsense? Is there actually something to know about wine beyond liking the one you are with? Do you need to be “educated” to enjoy wine, and is there any validity to the notion of expertise?

I would never for a moment argue that “knowledge” is a prerequisite to enjoyment of anything, from wine to fine food, from music to movies, from literature to visual art. I would, however, offer up a simple suggestion that there are many levels of pleasure to be found in each, and that pleasure can increase and deepen with the more you know. One of the great lies of the day, no doubt born of the leveling populism of the internet, is that there is no good, better or best beyond one’s individual and very temporal taste, and that with regards to wine, “education” is the engine of snobbery. Quality, some would have you believe, begins and ends in the eye of the beholder. My patience with those who trumpet that brand of intellectual anarchy has grown as thin as bad Pinot Grigio. And, yes, I do think there are objectively bad wines

There are also wines that have the ability to stop most everyone in their tracks with their downright deliciousness. Some are bold and others quite subtle, some that demand time and attention and some meant for unceremonious gulping. There are those that need coaxing and those that literally roar from the glass. I would never look down on anyone for liking this one or that, but, in turn, those of us for whom wine is a passion do not deserve derision for thinking that there is something to an educated palate. Despite the whine of loud and lonely internet poodles, we do not “need to get over ourselves.”

This morning’s musings arose from reading Dan Berger’s straightforward piece on “Getting a Good Wine Education” in the Press Democrat, or rather to a reader comment that made a defensive attack on any who might suggest education could open new vistas. Dan did not argue that you could not enjoy wine without an education, merely that there are things to know should the topic intrigue. The reader’s comments, however, are typical of so many angry, quick-click responses to writers who might pose the notion that there really are things to learn. “Why would anyone need to be ‘educated’ about wine in order to enjoy it”, the reader asks? I would reply simply that they do not, but it just might be that a little education might make it more enjoyable yet.

Fine wine is, like so many things, an acquired taste. I do not remember the very first wine I ever tasted, but I am reasonably sure that I did not like it. Was I wrong then? Am I simply deluding myself now? No and no are the answers, and, after nearly forty years of studying, I still consider myself a student. There is a new vintage every year and new pleasures waiting.


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Educated Palate
by cmiller
Posted on:6/29/2012 12:53:53 PM

I think two of the most important reasons to be a student of wine and continue to explore and discover is for ones wallet and due to the ever expancing wine world. Not just increased enjoyment or pleasure... though saving money on a great wine from a region or producer that is 'under the radar' offers it's own special pleasure. 

With more advanced technology and science there are more and more wine regions that are able to compete in the world wine market and those lesser known regions can offer some fun adventures along with increased qpr or dollar vs. enjoyment. Think back to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in the early '90's when they we stunning values...less so now.

No Subject
by Ted R. Nicholas MD
Posted on:7/1/2012 10:51:13 AM

It's a long slog from the great unwashed of winedom to a better place. It's difficult when one does not regularly eat or smell 90% of the fruits or flowers analogized, let alone distinguish among acidity, tannins, richer, rounder, youthful, outgoing, layering, etc.,etc. I do think i've got a handle on oak, dry and sweet. So I'll just keep on subscribing to CG as I have for over 20 years since its ratings do correspnd best to my taste :-)  About the only addition to its expert opinions presented in a wonderfully flexible online format would be the option of a "good values" subscription at a correspondingly good price. This would allow those who don't have access to or the cash to buy many of the reviewed wines an opportunity to enhance their education in taste since the "good buys" usually are less expensive and more widely available. CG, keep up the good work!

Posted on:7/2/2012 7:18:03 PM

I agree with the premise and argument. Too bad you and other commentators are restrained from saying what really needs to be said: There are numerous absolute truths and objective facts about wine and to deny them or refuse to learn them is the definition of ignorace. Saying that would cause one subscribers - or so it's been theorized....

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