Forbes: The “naughty truth” about wine tasting

Interesting perspective on the existential futility of tasting.

This guy is a moron. Poor man has to sit through tasting a number of interesting white wines before getting to the “good stuff” reds (my interpretation). And also suffer through drinking more than 1 or at most 2 wines over the course of an entire meal. I do agree that a lot of tasting menus with wine accompaniments are probably not super well thought out, but they certainly can be.

I do agree (for other reasons) that chugging through glass after glass in a tasting menu can be less than optimum. If I have multiple wines on the table, I want to be able to air them out in their glasses, come back to them later in the evening to see how they’ve developed. So I almost never choose wine pairings with a dinner.

Geez, he sounds like a Baroque music snob trying to review a Phillip Glass minimalist piece.

Nate, you lost me at “interesting.” This guy is anything but.

Wine tasting is existentially futile, but he believes in terroir? [rofl.gif]

“I am also of the belief, as are the vignerons of European vineyards, that for the most part their local wines go extremely well with their local food, grown in the same soil. Which is why, when in Tuscany, I drink Tuscan wines; when in Napa Valley, I drink Napa Valley wines; and when in Valencia, I drink Valençian wines. Do I experiment? Not much, because there’s no need to in a world of wines so diverse.”

He lives in New York City, best he stick to New York City wines.

I didn’t think it would happen, but he just topped Alice Feiring for pretentious wine dope of the year.

Now, pardon me, back to my existentially futile existence…as opposed to what other kind, John?

The writer comes off as someone who is burned out on their job but has yet to realize it. His anger at fellow writers and critics is kinda comical. The overall premise, “anyone who tastes wine differently than I do, is wrong” is just silly.

Perhaps the biggest head scratcher is how this piece got green lit.

I agree with you.


I call baloney.
Almost any wine critic will acknowledge his fallibility. We don’t need Mariani to tell us this.
He rails against sitting down and tasting thru a flight of wines w/o food to accompany them.
But what you gonna do. We all know that food has a huge impact on how we perceive a wine on our palate.
So you gonna taste these wines w/ a whole different array of foods before we report our thoughts? Hardly.
Any taster worth his salt can taste thru a flight of wines, w/o food, and relate his thoughts on the wine and then
suggest what kind of dishes they might go with. And a reader worth their salt should be able to read a TN
and come up w/ some idea of what food to accompany that wine. It’s not rocket science.
A pretty pointless article that should have never seen the light of day.


Great post. And I like the way you pair Baroque with music and Philip Glas with “piece”. Well done! Can’t tell you how many horrible Glas-like “pieces” I’ve endured because the composers couldn’t be bothered to learn music.

Anyway the article is pretty stupid.

“Have you really learned anything about the wines worth using at your next dinner?”

That’s not really the point is it? Do you go out and taste through wines in a restaurant to figure out what to have at home? Seems like more people would do it the other way around, since they’re paying a huge mark up in a restaurant.

“Thus, I have had to sit through a seemingly endless parade of dreary Austrian Gewürztraminers, Sicilian Chardonnays, Sonoma Semillons, Hungarian Tokays and South African Sauvignon Blancs that the sommelier finds quirky before getting to a single red wine”

Given that there are no such things as Hungarian Tokays, I guess he really is drinking crap. But the idea that white wine is inherently less interesting than anything red is a little odd.

I am also of the belief, as are the vignerons of European vineyards, that for the most part their local wines go extremely well with their local food, grown in the same soil. Which is why, when in Tuscany, I drink Tuscan wines; when in Napa Valley, I drink Napa Valley wines; and when in Valencia, I drink Valençian wines. Do I experiment? Not much, because there’s no need to in a world of wines so diverse. "

This is simply the height of stupidity and ignorance all rolled up together. Very few of the grapes in the various regions evolved there and nobody was spending time pairing the local wines with the local products. They ate what they could catch or grow and drank whatever they could make. Mariani disparages the various wine critics for coming up with random notes from their bingo cards. But imagining some lice-covered foul-smelling peasant making wine in the same bacteria-infected filthy container his parents used would be carefully swirling and sipping from his wooden or clay or metal “glass” to pick up the nuances of brett, oxidation, and VA that were stronger than the aromatic companions and animals sitting next to him - that’s way more far-fetched.

I agree. He should drink New York City wine.

In fact, they make it at City Winery. They ship grapes in from California, Long Island, and Brooklyn rooftops.

And by the way - wasn’t that Bordeaux/Burgundy quote attributed to Harry Waugh?

Since when do facts matter? The author is a fool.

This was a particularly stupid article which I think belongs in the get of my lawn rant thread in asylum.

I did love that when he is tasting wines “professionally” he will do so with food. OK. But he isn’t going to comment on any individual wine. Just tell you if the varietal goes with the fish or beef jerky or whatever.

So, when comparing a dozen zinfandels, his professional report on those wines will be “zin goes good with spicy Hi-Chew”

Says it all really.

Greg, don’t you think there is some truth to this part of the his pontification, setting aside the soil explanation and dropping out Napa Valley as an illustrative example? -Jim

I’m fine with that, but it is a longstanding platitude, not some original insight.

Skimming through the article it seems like he enjoys wine enough, but doesn’t consider the huge group of people who take it more seriously as a hobby, go so far to have it as a lifestyle, or god forbid, that some people have lots of fun tasting wine and making and sharing their notes and scores.

I’ll give you that, Anton. And I don’t mean to sound argumentative, but most of us “bluff” our way through things. Even when we are the “experts” , we draw on the clichéd, and the accepted, and the “platitudes”. Any original insight is rare, almost accidental. Miraculous even!
(I apologize if I am being a nonsensical ass)


You can’t really differentiate between toast and pain grille? Between cassis and black currant!

Turn in your Berserker pin!

Consider yourself “Branded.”

Maybe he’d like the wine pairing better if comped

Greg, don’t you think there is some truth to this part of the his pontification, setting aside the soil explanation and dropping out Napa Valley as an illustrative example? -Jim

Not really Jim. It’s hard to buy. The appearance of grapes tended to be rather random.

The Greeks and Etruscans probably brought grapes to the Gauls and the Germanic tribes but the Romans definitely did. And they brought grapes to Bordeaux. But they largely used the region mainly as a port from where they shipped beer and other products to Britain, in addition to wine, which was likely grown farther inland.

When the Romans disappeared, the people still made wine but barrels had replaced amphorae by that time because they were stronger containers. However, those old barrels didn’t seal very well and most wine was drunk partly or completely spoiled. In the early middle ages, the Europeans were discussing and drinking wine from Gaza, in the middle east. That wine had to be transported without refrigeration and it was probably spiked with honey and spices, which was fairly common.

And who knows what grapes anyone used? In the first century, the poet Ausonius wrote about wild boars and swamps in what is now the Medoc. He had an estate nearby and grew a grape he called Biturica, which he said was a blue grape from the Franks. Nobody knows what that grape was. Could have been Cab Sauv, but probably not.

The emperor Probus introduced a lot of grapes into central Europe. Did Riesling grow in Germany prior to that? Nobody knows. Ditto all the central European grapes, many of which were brought by the Romans and then blended with each other to produce “native” grapes.

During the middle ages, wine making wasn’t that great and while people preferred one grape to another, it basically came down to vineyard yield and vine health. The Germanic tribes categorized grapes as Frankish grapes or Hunnish grapes. It’s not clear whether the latter term was simply used to be disparaging or was based on the idea that the grapes came from the Huns or Slavs. But they were considered inferior. Gouais Blanc, which is the parent of Riesling, Chardonnay, Gamay, and Furmint, was considered a Hunnish grape. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not from France anyway but it’s a long way between Tokaj and Burgundy so for those grapes to have the same parent, someone probably had to bring the grape to the region.

Nebbiolo, which may even be an ancient grape from north Italy, was made into a sparkling and sweet wine until the late 1800s. So that wouldn’t have evolved into a pairing with modern Barolo. Jefferson, America’s first wine afficcionado, visited the region and wrote about Nebbiolo as being comparable to Champagne. So the cuisine that “evolved” with that sparkling sweet wine would have to be the same that one would have with the dry version as well as the version of the “Barolo Boys”.

Also, farmers weren’t stupid. They planted mixed grapes because they never knew what the vintage was going to be like. It’s only in the 1900s that people started monoclonal viticulture.

One of the most planted varieties in Bordeaux at one time was Malbec. Nobody knows where it came from but some have suggested it’s from farther north, by Burgundy. That would have been almost a separate kingdom in the middle ages. It worked its way down and got planted all over Bordeaux and Cahors. If people were evolving cuisine with their wine, they presumably people would have been developing a cuisine to go along with a wine made from Malbec that would have been thin, tannic, and green. But in the late 1800s a lot of it died off from phylloxera and in the 1950s a lot of it got killed off from frost and since it was so prone to disease anyway it wasn’t replanted, so it’s now not a major grape in Bordeaux.

And the wine preferences of times past were really different. Sugar was highly prized and before the discovery of the new world and growth of sugar canes and later, sugar beets, sweet wines were preferred by those who could afford them. They were also the only wines able to last and age.

So given all of that, people would have had to be developing a cuisine that would accommodate the appearance and replacement of various grapes. I don’t think that was going on.

As far as cuisine goes, I really don’t think people spent any time at all matching food and wine. It was about survival. If you had a short season, you grew cabbages and root vegetables because they’d last you through the winter. If it was cold, you made butter. In south Europe, people could grow olives. Is Riesling or Silvaner really a better match for foods made with butter rather than olive oil? Plus, Silvaner is another grape that is half Hunnish and half Frankish, and it was widely planted in Central Europe as well as Germany and France, so it travelled to different cuisines.

As to cooking generally, the idea of the “Mediterranean Diet” made up of fresh vegetables and fish and tasty cheese is also pretty new. All the old Greeks I know cook the hell out of their vegetables, as do most of the old French and Germans.

That may be because the poor folks ate mostly vegetables with little meat, but to make the small amount of meat go further, they would cook everything together as a stew. And some vegetables would just be thrown directly into the coals and ashes to cook. The oldest cultivated or wild vegetables probably were fibrous and bitter and a long simmer or bake would have made them palatable. And people even thought that raw foods were unhealthy. Overcooking was also the trend in the US until the 1970s when the revolutionary idea of leaving your veggies a little crunchy took hold.

Rabbits were once plentiful all over Europe, so they figured in all cuisines, not so much because of taste but because of availability. The herbs that grew wild were used for seasoning, not for enhancing wine pairing. Meantime, in Lebanon and other middle east countries, where wine was once widely produced, they like lemons and vinegars, neither of which really compliment most red wines.

Mostly though, I don’t think people had the time to worry about matching food and wine. Italy was dirt poor for most of the 1700s and 1800s and 1900s. That’s why there was such a large emigration in the late 1800s. And with most poor countries - if they had food, they ate it. They weren’t able to select from abundance to produce the perfect marriage. I think that’s a romanticized construct that well-off people of today can promote.

But hey, I may be wrong!

Damn, you now have me singing the theme song in my head and in occasional vocal outbursts.

Yeah, he comes across as a screaming monkey in the zoo throwing his crap against the wall to see what sticks. He makes about fifty different points in the article, but he never supports or develops any of them, instead flitting back forth between them like a first grader on way too much candy. He hits obliquely at a good point once in a while, in the same way that a stopped clock is right twice a day.

And the idea that professional tasters have no recognition of their own fallibility – there’s only one taster I can think of who even might fit that mold, and that’s Parker. Mariani needs to get out more.