Beware the wine 'expert'

At the university I am sometimes asked about "wine experts" and who they are in relation to the wine industry. I have a very hard time answering this question for a variety of reasons.

The term "expert" rankles me more than I would like to admit, and I always look over my shoulder and keep my radar lit in front hoping never to run into one of them. I think it was Rocky Marciano who said "It's always the 95 percenter that you want to be around. They'll work hard to get that last 5 percent. It's the 100 percenter, the know-it-all, that'll let you down." Excuse me if Rocky didn't say this but the advice, especially in the wine business, rings true. Here's why:

Wine is a constantly evolving phenomena. Just when one thinks they "understand" wine or the wine business is when it sneaks up and bites you in the butt.

I remember once at a very prestigious wine competition the room hushed when a self-described or designated (by the junior judges) "wine expert" entered the judging area. We shook hands and he sat down at the judges panel and began to tell us about where he'd been and who, at the various wineries, he had spoken with or dined with.

We all listened to him go on and on about this wine and that wine and the little chateaux he had visited. I'd have to say it was all a bit daunting to hear the name dropping and fabulous wines he had tasted.

When the flight (usually a grouping of same varietal wines) of Chardonnay arrived we tasted them in silence. Then, after about 10 minutes or so, we began to talk about the merits of the individual wines as well as the flight in general.

Most of us liked the flight very much, but the "wine expert" began a litany of disparaging remarks about each of the wines.

This dumbing down of very nice Chardonnay from such an "eminent" wine person dragged the rest of the judges down with him until the wines almost flickered out on the table.

I asked this man to speak more specifically about exactly why he felt, to pinpoint why he felt these wines to be, universally, below average Chardonnay.

Finally, he declared that the wines had far too much oak on them, too much wood, "suppressing" the natural Chardonnay flavors in each.

I just sat there listening to him go on and on about oak treatment until I couldn't take the uppity manner and the destruction of, I felt, very nice wines.

It was then that I gently but firmly pointed something out to him.

These Chardonnay were entered (big letters on the top of the judges scorecard) as "stainless steel" Chardonnay, Chardonnay not fermented or aged in wood at any time!

He had, because of his gigantic ego, neglected to do his homework and review the judges' packet for that morning's judging.

He then looked at me, looked at his packet heading then at the table top of Chardonnay lined in a row in front of him, got up, excused himself and I never saw him again at any formal commercial wine judging.

The higher the billing, the harder the fall.

See you next week!

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