Oboyoboyoboy! I’ve been lab-ratted. I finally get my chance to play with the big guys and actually speak with apparent and assumed authority in the Wine.Woot community. And, what’s more important, I get a free bottle of wine! I’m so excited, I can hardly hold my water! No, really. Someday you’ll be my age and you’ll know what I’m talking about. My tasting notes will be posted later tonight – this is a warm-up exercise and introduction.
Let’s start with a little biography, so you know a little about me and why I am eminently qualified to tell you whether a wine is any good. I was born in 1953 and raised a few miles from the nearest town – the thriving metropolis of New Meadows, Idaho (population 647 when I graduated high school in 1971). This link will put you within 1/4 mile of my ancestral home. Back when I was getting acquainted with the pleasures of intoxication, that was definitely beer country – no wine to be had. I could wax poetical on the finer points of Olympia, Lucky Lager and Coors, but couldn’t tell you the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet. My first recollection of wine comes from my senior sneak (my entire graduating class of 13 snuck off – loosely chaperoned – to Boise for a 3-day bender), when I was introduce to the likes of Annie Green Springs, Ripple and MD 20/20.
In college (University of Idaho in Moscow), I graduated to Mateus Rosé (we Idahoans pronounced that “mat-e-us rose”) and the Chianti in the distinctive bottle with the straw wrapped around it. Then, it was on to Uncle Sam’s army, and back to beer. Hamm’s for $.25 right out of the vending machine in the barracks. Fast forward to 1984 and I was married (to my lovely bride of nearly 29 years now, Kay) and had just graduated from law school. For our fourth wedding anniversary we went to a fancy restaurant where, for the first time in my life, I spent more than $200 on a dinner for two (that was some serious bucks 25 years ago). The sommelier (big key on a chain around his neck) talked me into ordering a bottle of Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon – I don’t remember the vintage for certain, but 1979 is what sticks in my head. It was dry – dryer than any wine I had drunk to that point in my life – and had an astringency that made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. And it was good! Really f***ing good. (BTW, “f***ing” is the most useful and versatile adjective in the English language. I learned from my drill instructors in basic training that it can be used to emphasize nearly any aspect or condition of any noun and can even be inserted between syllables of other words to enhance their meaning.) I would gladly have embarked on a wine tasting and buying odyssey after that single experience but for four things – I was broke, my wife wouldn’t let me and we shortly had two kids (thing 3 and thing 4).
Fast forward another two decades. Things 3 and 4 are now out of the home and only sucking away about 25% of my income in college and other costly pursuits. Back to wine. I started going to some local wine-tasting classes with a couple friends and shortly started making wine from kits. At first, I thought the wines I made were nearly on a par with wines I tried at the tastings, but gradually started developing a more discerning palate and learning more words (usually used in conjunction with f***ing) to describe what I experienced in wines. With this growth came the realization that the wines I make range from mediocre (okay, one was really f***ing bad – it went down the drain) to passable, but there are some wines out there that can still bring the experience I had with that first Robert Mondavi Cabernet 25 years ago – really f***ing good.
So, how to describe the wines and rate them so as to convey the experience to another… That’s the trick, isn’t it? I could use the original 2-point “Y” scale (yuck or yum, nothing in between) that worked just fine in the 70’s, but that just won’t cut it with the worldly sophisticates who visit this forum (to say nothing of the obnoxious snobs – you know who you are). There are many wine rating scales available to choose from. Some of them are compared in a great PDF file that you can download at this site. Of course, only more-or-less formal scoring systems are compared there. More informal scoring systems can often convey as much or more useful information, and without making one appear so geeky. For instance, there’s the “f***ing” scale in which the only rule is that the most important of adjectives be used in the score. For instance, “really f***ing crappy with no redeeming virtues” or “so f***ing average that there is no real point”. You get the idea. For a more complete discussion on how to talk about wines, you might check out Novice Wine Blog.
But here’s the rub – my level of sophistication is just marginally above that of the 2-point “Y” scale. It certainly doesn’t approach the Robert Parker 100-point level of understanding. (And what is it with a 100-point scale that doesn’t use the first 49? Isn’t it really a 51-point scale). Frankly, I can’t honestly say I’m capable of a 20-point UC Davis level of understanding of wine. So, how am I going to describe what I see/smell/taste in this 2006 Rasmussen Pinot Noir? You just don’t know, do you. And neither do I. All I can say is, why would they make it and peddle it on Wine.Woot if it wasn’t going to be really, really good? I hope it is.