A Wine Teller by Andre Silva

The standardization of taste

“People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.”

Michel Foucault

How would you generally describe a good wine? Do you believe this definition is personal or can it be considered universal? Simple questions and complex answers. As wine consumption is commonly associated with social status, several constraints lead ordinary consumers to choose their wines in restaurants and markets world-wide. Unfortunately the main one seems to be price and another famous is origin as if all expensive French wine was good just because it is expensive and French.

Why do I think this discussion matters? In my humble opinion, we are living a standardization of taste. It’s a fact. People seek tannin, acidity, structure, color and method without having any idea of what it actually means. Consumers read fabulous descriptions in assessments like those of Robert Parker and understand that there is in that ranking the supreme primary cause of all things. But the truth (at least to me) is that this standardization has affected the wine market and messed up the traditions.

“A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based… To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.”

Michel Foucault

Having a winery before anything else is having a business. Whether it is familiar or not, this winery must support its owners and the families of its employees. For this, obviously the wine needs to be bought. Based on this basic premise, it is easy to perceive a simple relationship between supply and demand in this case. That is, producers want to make wines that please consumers. This link has caused producers to abandon varieties of native grapes and to start producing those that, today, produce better accepted wines.

The effect of this long-term market practices seems to be devastating in countries such as Italy where there are more than 300 different denominations of origin and more than 400 indigenous grapes (over 2000 if sub-varieties are counted). Some varieties of native grapes may even disappear and some traditional wine styles made from them as well.

Let’s get back to the heart of the matter. Is this preference for a particular wine standard real or artificial? How do people shape their tastes and preferences? I ground my taste and preferences from my experiences and, as a social animal, my choices are influenced by the environment in which I live. This is where we enter into what we call the preconceived concept. Have you ever taken a bottle of an unknown wine to taste with people who are now entering the world of wine? When the bottle appears on the table what do these people do? Well, in my previous experiences they will asap search on Vivino how much it costs and how many stars they have. Others are already looking for whether the wine is ranked by Parker or Decanter. Now try saying that it is an organic wine, biodynamic or even an orange wine vinified with an ancestral method.

I do not intend to devalue wine reviews like those made by Robert Parker nor even deny its value. What I want to put here is why do people close themselves to the new and instantaneously classify the unknown as something bad or potentially bad? As my mom use to say to me ‘how can you say you don’t like if you didn’t even try it?’

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