I would not consider myself a wine connoisseur. My palate is amateurish at best, certainly not a supertaster, but compared with a mass of people it is better than average. It’s taken some time, lots of money and a heavy workload on my taste buds, nostrils and liver.
I can reasonably tell the difference between the most popular varietals – if you were, say, to put a glass of Viognier, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay and told me to tell which is which four out of five days I’d be able to and the same goes with reds. I’m discerning in my likes and dislikes, can sorta pair wine with foods and have reached a point where I know there is a significant difference between your mass produced dreck like Yellow Tail (the $5-7 bottle) and something tasty in the next price range ($12-18).
However, if you were to ask me to tell the difference between a $18 bottle and something more heady, something in the $35-50 range I would be hard pressed to offer what exactly the difference is. Or rather, why the supposed sophistication and quality of the more expensive bottle justifies it’s price. And in this sense I am like most wine drinkers.
My theory, not that original and backed up by a new study (pdf) in Journal of Wine Ecomonics, is that there isn’t a remarkable enough difference for most wine consumer’s palate to justify the splurge. If you stay in the $12-18 range both your wallet and your taste buds will benefit. You’ll be able to drink more, and thus, consume from a wider selection of wines than just Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot and the big whites.? As a result you will learn more: you’ll be able to talk about other offbeat varietals with confidence.? And even though you will still feel like you know nothing when you talk about tannins, acidity, mouthful, front-forward fruit, after taste, hints of whatever (fill in with appropriate descriptor) you will impress others.
Most people, waiters included, are just faking it when it comes to wine tasting.? So do not be intimidated.