I am pleased to announce that we’ve made a great philosophical discovery here at the “Mutineer Institute to Try and Drink Good” (MITTADG). OK, there is no MITTADG, but if there was, this is exactly the kind of topics they would be tackling. Also, I’m sure I’m not the first person to ponder the question of what the difference between tasting and drinking is.
So what I realized is this: Drinking and tasting are very different processes, drinking is what normal people do, and tasting is what 100 point scores are based on.
When someone tastes a wine, they are typically doing so with the purpose of passing judgment to quantify and classify the wine into some system. This usually is a very quick process, and the wines are often current release and not given adequate time to mature. The wines often are not properly decanted, combined with other factors of the tasting process emphasize the homogeneous aspects of a wine. This leads tasters to gravitate towards a sort of “relative distinction”, which I feel is what people are referring to when they say “terroir” or “earth”. This is especially the case in big, over the top wines like Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
For instance, at this year’s Napa Valley Wine Auction, I was faced with the daunting task of tasting through hundreds of Cabernet Sauvignons, which made the quality of distinction of paramount importance to me. All of the wines I had were drinkable, and most were pretty damn good and exactly what you would expect in a Napa Cab. There were certainly standouts, but the thing that made these wines standout to me was their distinction and uniqueness.
So how does this compare to drinking wine? When you drink a wine, you are experiencing it. Hopefully it is appropriately aged and served, e.g. decanted in proper glassware. It is likely that you are enjoying the wine with a meal, which further adds to the experience of drinking the wine. You may be drinking with other people and are able to talk about the wine. Maybe there is a good story as to how the wine was acquired, such as through a trip or as a gift. Maybe someone has visited the region and has stories from their travels.
The wine can open up in your glass, and after the third sip, the wine becomes a part of who you are: it lingers on your palate, it stains your teeth and tongue, and lightens your mood. If you are having a steak with your wine, it is unlike any other steak you’ve ever had, because no two wines are alike, even two wines of the same label.
I often ask people what the best bottle of wine they’ve ever had is, and surprisingly these wines typically aren’t 100 point blockbusters, but rather wines that they enjoyed on special occasions or with special company. Much like music, wine and fine beverage is a soundtrack to the lives we lead.
Drinking is intimate, tasting is detached. Drinking is complex, tasting is abbreviated. Drinking is an experience, tasting is a task. Drinking is an adventure, tasting is a means to an end.
Tasting is like spending a night with a prostitute, drinking is like a wonderful relationship full of complexity and everything that is amazing about life.
So I ask the question, if wine is meant to be drunk, why do we let a system founded on tasting dictate the way we communicate about wine?