Zen and the Art of Buying Wine (not Diamonds)

OK. You have the vintage chart, respective to each wine region. You have the scores from reputable wine critics. And now you’re ready to pick a bottle, right? 

A word of advice before you go: bring the maps, but talk to the locals and seek out the back roads.

During a recent trip to Burgundy I tasted some 2009 and 2010 from the same producers with local wine merchants from Beaune. Without debate, we all agreed that the 2010 were better. Who knew? Of course this goes against all that excitement about ’09 being an extraordinary year. And while it may turn out to be, it’s also evidence that personal palate prevails over general media.

What do you like about Burgundy? Is it a linear body with delicate nuances and an alluring quality that draws you for another sip? Or maybe you enjoy an obvious chunk of fruit and power? The kind that the person next to you might suggest will overwhelm your palate after one glass? I enjoy going on cellartracker.com to see how people rate wines: various qualities from the same wine often attracts one person and puts off another. Point being? When you love something, it’s because there are special qualities that stand out and click with you in a personal way. While some people drink only wines with 95+ scores, others think wines from a ‘regular’ vintage are suspicious. Find your own way to learn and remember. If you’re going to go through the trouble of buying a wine, at least take the time to place it in a context.

Wines are not diamonds, defined and valued by unchanging specs. They are completely opposite. They are alive and valued for their never ending evolution. – All the tasting notes in the world amount to snapshots of a moment when a changing wine is tasted by a changing palate. Any good wine starts out young wrestling within itself; tired, it sleeps for awhile; rested, it awakes more integrated; maturing, it begins to show its age; aging, it carries an illusive elegance and a dying quality. Connoisseurs diverge in their desire for wines at any one or another of these stages. But what they share is the belief in their own maps and their own well-earned back roads. What they share is the belief in knowledge: you don’t pass up a chance to taste a young wine just because it won’t taste as good as it might under better conditions. Rather, you assess it in a context.

Point being? Check your charts, research your regions, and read your critics. But believe in your own palate. Everything else is a signpost. Don’t invest in a fancy label, invest in your knowledge and ability to connect the dots and follow the story of a changing industry. Every bottle is a clue. Every glass is a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Remember how long it took for New World wines to get any respect? How much wine markets then changed to accommodate the american palate? Keep an eye on how much the industry appears to be changing again, gearing up for the chinese palate. Anyone who’s seen Mondo Vino or does their fair share of research understands this is an ever-changing industry built upon the tensions between tradition, innovation and consumption. – Point being, if you follow the herd you may never get to your destination.