“Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?” replied Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all character from the sitcom Cheers, during his appearance on Jeopardy. This was not the answer host Alex Trebek was looking for when the he asked the contestants to identify the three names listed on the board. Technically, Cliffy’s answer was correct; the three never once stepped foot in his kitchen.
“But that’s obviously not what we were going for here,” said Trebek after hearing Clavin’s technically correct answer.
“Obvious to whom?” replied Clavin, again making a legitimate point.
Cliff’s answer was right yet in the end, the response was ruled wrong and Mr. Clavin lost all his prize money.
Tasting wine differs from Jeopardy because with wine there are no incorrect answers about what you experience. How can somebody else possibly tell you what you taste, what you like, and why? So many times people believe, incorrectly, that they need to have the same experience as the critics. They’re told which wines they should like or dislike. This is exactly why such a culture of snobbery surrounds wine. Here’s my point: Tasting wine is not like completing a history test or filling out an IRS form; you can put whatever answer you like and it’s still right. When your friend at a wine party describes “hints of forest floor” in a wine, your description of, “tastes like those little plastic green army men I used to play with,” is no less valid. If it tastes like plastic toys to you, nobody can, or should, tell you otherwise.
To prove my point, a highly regarded wine critic recently admitted that his palate changed when he scored a wine 91 points. He said he would have rated it at 89 if he tasted it 18 months earlier. C’mon, what math teacher has ever said, “The answer for this problem is 42 but last week it was 18”?
So next time you’re in a situation where someone is telling you what you should obviously taste in a wine, think “obvious to whom?” Then see if you denote a nuance of those little plastic army men. Like Cliffy, you’d be correct. Below is this week’s recommendation.
Cline 2008, Cashmere ($15.99): This wine is very smooth. No hints of forest floor but I do get a very unique mix of burnt marshmallow on the nose and graham crackers on the palate. Remember, that doesn’t mean you should too.