Expert and novice agree to disagree, and maybe even agree, when it comes to wine


It's time once again to eavesdrop on a conversation between a novice Bellingham wine drinker and our Resident Wine Enthusiast.

Novice: So lately I've been checking out a few wine reviews and recommendations. I still don't get how you guys come up with all those crazy adjectives. "Bold," "intriguing," "seductive" ... are we talking about a soap opera story line or a wine tasting?

RWE: Well, I suppose we do get a little carried away. But if you continue to try new wines, especially with friends, where you can taste several wines side-by-side, you'll start to come up with your own descriptors.

It really is easier to compare and contrast flavor components and styles when you have a number of different wines in front of you. It also doesn't hurt to try new wines with someone with a bit of tasting experience, so they can point you in the right direction.

Let's just say the power of suggestion can be very helpful when you're learning about wine.

Novice: But I don't want suggestions. You wine people are always talking about hints of this and suggestions of that. Enough beating around the bush! I want answers!

RWE: As I've said before, the truth of the matter is that there are no definitive answers when you're tasting wine. What you taste and what I taste can be two completely different things. The important thing is not to worry if our interpretations don't agree. We're only looking for a general consensus, not exactness.

Novice: That sounds like a cop-out to me. Why should I buy something you say tastes like one thing when I think it tastes like something else?

RWE: Actually, it's those differences that make wine tasting fun. I mean, if everyone agreed about everything and we all liked the same thing, we'd all be drinking the same wine all the time. Boring!

Also, remember that there's a lot more to wine than just flavors. Aromas, alcohol content, sweetness, acidity levels ... those things can be much more important, especially when you're trying to pair foods with wine.

And while we may not exactly agree on what a wine tastes like, we're more likely to agree on whether it's sweet, acidic, or even young and chalky tasting, versus a smoother, rounder wine that's had more time in the bottle. You don't need to be an expert to taste those kinds of differences.

Novice: Well, I suppose you're starting to make a little bit of sense. But there's still one thing that bothers me. When are you guys ever going to write a review that says the wine "tastes like grapes?"

RWE: Probably when Welch's decides to bottle a Concord grape wine.

Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at

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