22 Jun 2013

Wine and the obsession with choice

Some wine critics are very earnest.

Like a pope standing between the masses and enlightenment, they taste wine after wine after wine and score each one out of 100. The suggestion seems to be it's a totally cold and objective process; they're scoring wines against set criteria for a public duty, a job that a well-programmed robot could surely do one day. Enjoyment doesn't come into it.

Which keeps things nice and simple. You might have a wine rated at 96, another at 94, another at 91 and another at 90.

Why would you ever buy the lowest-ranked wines? By this logic there is absolutely no reason to. Someone with encyclopaedic knowledge, and the memory powers to compare all that knowledge in one sip to within one percentile of accuracy, has told us which are the best wines and which are the worst. Which ones to buy and which to avoid.

This is the Ofsted of wine.

Thatcher's governments (and perhaps Reagan's in the US) - and each administration since - promoted an obsession with choice. And with league tables. Choice in public services. The freedom to choose. You can even choose which hospital to have an operation in. Again, as with the wine, I think I'll choose the good one please.

Supermarkets are masters at this. Shelves packed full with wine, loads at under £7 a bottle. You go into an independent wine shop and there might be only seven or eight bottles under a tenner in the whole store. A lack of choice, so it seems.

We're always chasing something better, sipping a wine while looking over the glass to the next label, and the one after that, wondering if they will be 1% better or worse and forgetting to enjoy the moment.

It's a bit like being lucky enough to experience an amazing event, a live concert or football match say, and spending more time worrying about capturing it on your camera than feeling it.

We're constantly choosing and comparing, and in wine this obsession's been fuelled by the 100-point scores.

The best thing in the world at a brief moment in your life - that fleeting moment - might be a cheap bottle of Cotes du Rhones with a plate of cheese. Whether the wine is a rustic 85 or 87 or a 93 or 95 may be irrelevant. The moment is what it's about, and moments are personal and social, and they're there and then they're gone.

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