Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Wine Whine

Most of the book excerpts that have been shared in this space haven't come from books I've read, but from books excerpted for me by Delancyplace, "a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came."

That aspect of universal relevance comes into play with the following quote from Gulp, by Mary Roach:


Marc Dornan, of the Beverage Testing Institute, says that rating wines on a hundred-point scale, which is now common practice, is 'utterly pseudoscientific.' Tim Hanni, a Master of Wine, believes that most commentary about wines fails to take into account the biological individuality of consumers; he claims that he can predict what sort of wine appeals to you according to such factors as how heavily you salt your food and whether your mother suffered a lot from morning sickness while carrying you. Hanni has said for years that the matching of a particular wine with a particular food is a scam, there being "absolutely no premise historically, culturally, or biologically for drinking red wine with meat." As a way of illustrating the role played by anticipation in taste, Frédéric Brochet, who is a researcher with the enology faculty of the University of Bordeaux, recently asked some experts to describe two wines that appeared by their labels to be a distinguished grand-cru classe and a cheap table wine -- actually, Brochet had refilled both bottles with a third, mid-level wine -- and found his subjects mightily impressed by the supposed grand cru and dismissive of the same wine when it was in the vin ordinaire bottle.

Keep that in your pocket, and add to it this thought from The Red and the White, by Calvin Trillin:


An urge to refute the notion of expertise certainly seemed to be reflected in the headline of an article from the Times of London about the research Brochet has been carrying on -- "CHEEKY LITTLE TEST EXPOSES WINE 'EXPERTS' AS WEAK AND FLAT." The headline caught the tone of the article, by Adam Sage, which began, "Drinkers have long suspected it, but now French researchers have finally proved it: wine 'experts' know no more than the rest of us." The test of Brochet's that caught my eye consisted partly of asking wine drinkers to describe what appeared to be a white wine and a red wine. They were in fact two glasses of the same white wine, one of which had been colored red with flavorless and odorless dye. The comments about the "red" wine used what people in the trade call red-wine descriptors. "It is a well known psychological phenomenon -- you taste what you're expecting to taste," Brochet said in the Times. "They were expecting to taste a red wine and so they did. . . . About two or three per cent of people detect the white wine flavour, but invariably they have little experience of wine culture. Connoisseurs tend to fail to do so. The more training they have, the more mistakes they make because they are influenced by the color of the wine."

So what's my universal point?

In my conversations with folks who, unlike me, choose to believe there is no god...or at the very least, choose to not believe there is one...I invariably say something to the effect of "Neither one of us can ultimately prove the correctness of our opinions. We are both looking at evidence, and because of our prejudices and preconceived notions, believe our conclusions best line up with that evidence."

Sometimes, that results with a comeback that boils down to, "Yeah, but my prejudices and preconceived notions are right," which usually makes me giggle.

Truth is...I reserve the right to be wrong, but if I am, so what? What have I lost in this life if this life is all there is?

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