One question that never seems to get old when you reveal to people that your version of studying involves tasting lots of different types of wine is “you must drink loads of good wine then?” Regrettably, this truly isn’t the case (at least, not while I’m studying). Loathe as I am to play the consummate wine snob, even my well-exercised liver simply lacks the capacity to process whole bottles of the myriad (many, sadly, rather average) wines that I’m required to know intimately in order to pass the Master of Wine tasting exams.
After weeks of trying to channel How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Master of Wine Exam, I’ll capitulate and revisit one of my many exam lowlights. Most people’s exams don’t involve alcoholic beverages (at least not concurrently), but I imagine everyone can recall an exam question that made them want one.
Blind tasting has always been, I must confess, one of the banes of my vinous existence. While some Master of Wine students and particularly Master Sommeliers (a totally separate undertaking with its own London-based HQ, the Court of Master Sommeliers) take to blind tasting like chardonnay to oak barrels, I view it as a necessary evil.
For everyone even remotely related to the wine trade, the final quarter of the year is not primarily about the approach of Christmas (though our already heavily-bedecked shopping malls clearly feel differently), nor Thanksgiving, Diwali, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Singles Day or any other cultural (!) celebration.
While clearing up after a recent consumer wine tasting, I was struck by the fact that of the three spit buckets I’d set out, not one contained a drop of wine. I realized I’d forgotten that for most people the idea of spitting out wine borders on sacrilege, and was reminded how fundamentally different the worlds of wine tasting and wine drinking are.
I recently held a short talk for a group of interested but non-expert wine consumers, where I had taken the perhaps foolhardy decision to tackle the thorny issue of wine pricing in our wine market. To give a bit of background for those whose lives do not revolve around the wine trade, the familiar part of the story is that in 2008 the Hong Kong government removed all taxes on wine (imports and consumption, and we don’t have a VAT), creating the modern world’s first completely free market for wine.
The biggest fib in the wine industry: “there is no such thing as good or bad wine, it only matters whether you like it.” It’s a fib not because it’s a false statement, but because the people saying it often don’t quite believe it. Conscious or not, the underlying message of a statement like this is that the person to whom it is being said is clearly too innocent of what good wine actually is for the speaker to be bothered debating the topic with them.
As a non wine-obsessed consumer, one could be forgiven for thinking that the wine industry doesn’t have a lot of compassion for its customers. For example, a question as basic as what the name of a wine actually means has no consistent answer. In some areas of the world (mainly in the so-called old world, aka Europe) wine is named after the place it is from, as in Bordeaux, Burgundy or Barolo. Others (usually from the new world) trade under the name of their principal grape, like Shiraz or Chardonnay.