Much of the wine world has become preoccupied with staking out their own definitions of what wine must be before they will even consider it. They are missing out.
Some insist that a wine contain no more than this much alcohol. There better be no hint of oak character in the flavor profile. And if the wine lacks a jolt of acidity, it's right out. Paradoxically, some of the same folks who espouse these prerequisites (including many of those touting "natural wines") dismiss rich fruit character as simple and salivate over savory notes, even if those come by way of funky organisms such as brettanomyces and volatile acidity.
I am not singling out the natural wine crowd, which so far represents a tiny if vocal minority of wine drinkers. My sympathies go to anyone who subjects wine to derision if it does not conform to any narrow profile. I reject the idea that any one style can always be better than another. My tastes run to both low alcohol and high alcohol wines, as long they achieve a pleasing balance. Acidity is fine with me, as long it keeps its feet in bounds. I don't mind oak character as long as I can taste more than that in the wine.
Blind tasting has taught me that wines are not always what we expect them to be from their reputations. Wine will surprise us. True, when the bags come off, the label often confirms the reputation. But one in four will defy the odds—in either direction, better or worse—that fascinates me the most.
Wines can seem clumsy even though they say 12.8 percent alcohol on the label, while the labels on those that feel deft and sleek can reveal that they contain 15.5 percent. A $12 wine can pack more character into every sip than the $75 bottle next to it. The wine from a giant multinational wine company can show greater harmony and depth than the one from a small estate that farms biodynamically.
When I visit the regions I write about, I base who to see on whether their wines stand out in my own blind tastings. The wines that show more finesse than their peers, greater depth of flavor, real personality, a definable style and consistent high quality make me want to explore who made them and how they do it. The story follows the wine. It's not the other way around.
What they made is more important than how they made it. That may become my new mantra.