Date Tags wine

No, not that wine. If you want to emulate Windows, just type :(){ :|:& };: in a bash session.

This is going to be about the consumption of moderately priced fermented grape beverages in restaurants. Since my unrefined remarks are likely to upset a few people, I shall start by insulting them. There are three archetypes of wine experts:

  • Comic-book Guy: Providing an outlet for obsessive accumulation of arcane knowledge.
  • Barney: Assuring you that that everybody’s special and nobody’s wrong.
  • Ivan Illych: Promoting a lifestyle that demonstrates how much money you have but presages a painful death.

To this list, Mr. Podsnap would like to add his illustrious moniker. He will approach the topic from life-hacking perspective - a rational, compact framework for reliably enjoying oneself - while also contributing to the world's store of ironically ambiguous snark and slapdash statistical reasoning.

Ranked in decreasing ratio of reward to effort, here's what you must do:

  • Don't "relax." Even if the wine doesn't make you nervous, it's a big scary world, and there must be something you should worry about.

  • Find out what “corked” wine smells like. About 7-10% of all bottles have been ruined by fungi that grow on the cork and produce nasty chlorinated compounds. If the wine is corked, you’re always allowed to send it back. The smell of corked wine is variously described as “wet dog” or “moldy newspaper,” but who knows what that means. Don’t be like me and spend years consuming ruined plonk under the impression you’re too stupid to appreciate it. The best thing to do is ask at a restaurant where they seem nice if you can sniff a bottle that’s been returned for cork taint. Once it clicks, you’ll never forget the smell.

  • Hack the sommelier! Or whoever the designated wine person seems to be. The vast majority of them are just eager to talk to someone who seems interested in this thing they’ve spent years studying, but instead they have to suck up to pompous twits trying to impress their dates. Most have no interest in judging you or even in what you spend. If yousocially engineer them're friendly and engaged, they’ll fall all over themselves trying to help, let you taste stuff without buying it and downsell you to cheaper bottles.

  • Detect and defuse villainy. Be alert for any of the following:

    • The list has no vintages on it.
    • Someone says, "whaddya like, dry, full bodied?"
    • You're assured that "everyone loves this one."
    • You get pressured to choose something more expensive.

    For the 100% markup over retail they're charging, you should be treated very nicely. Should any of the above occur, just say no. Get a beer. Or leave.

  • Alternatively, bring your own bottle as a backup. Most restaurants will open it for a “corkage fee” of ten to twenty dollars. There's something enjoyably hostile about paying \$15 for them to open something you bought for \$7, because you have so little respect for their selection.

  • Reject entire regions or varietals out of hand, for reasons you explain only by rolling your eyes. It's insanely unlikely that the wine you would have chosen from a broader slate would have delivered so much sensate pleasure as to compete with the advantages of a crisp reduction in mental clutter.

    Let us suppose that the enjoyment you will derive from a particular wine is represented by a number $q$, which is uniformally distributed between 0 and 1, where 0 is vomitous. Given $n$ random wines, the probability that the best of them has quality less than $q$ is $q^n$; the expected quality of the best of $n$ is $\int_0^1 n q q^{n-1} dq = n/(n+1)$.

    If that malarky is working for you, let me suggest further that the probability distribution for your actual choice is $(1+b/n)q^{b/n}$. For $n$ significantly above a befuddlement level $b$, your choice is no better than random, but as $n$ goes down and you have time to think, the distribution is skewed to the right. The expected value of your choice is $(1+b/n)/(2+b/n)$; far into the befuddlement regime, the expectation is as if you chose randomly. So, ignoring a few unpleasant discretization issues, we have:

    You really don't want more than around ten bottles to choose from. That's high enough that there's likely to be something good left and low enough that you aren't too confused to care.

  • Forget pairing. It just complicates things and makes less of a difference than Comic Book Guy would have you believe. Most of the time that pairing is "difficult," the real answer is beer. As with the previous item, expressing this with conviction makes you bad-ass.

  • Pick a few good sensory eigenvectors. Despite the garish profusion of wine adjectives, two dimensions will get you very close to describing what you like:

    • A sort of outdoorsy, pleasantly decomposing smell of “earth,” which generally mitigates obvious fruitiness.
    • The trace slight of vanilla and other cookie ingredients indicative of "oak."

    You can also talk about things like lavender and pencil lead, the mere mention of which makes it likely that you'll detect them in whatever you're drinking, even Shasta. I have verified such suggestibility by performing unethical experiments on my friends.

  • Now look at the rough correspondence of those dimensions to regions and varietals. Following my own advice, I've arbitrarily wiped white wines (I mean, come on!) off the map, so here it is for red wine. I've added the dimension of "red fruit" vs "black fruit," since it means something to me; the latter means prunier.

    Earth,Oak,Black $\rightarrow$ Wines
    0 1 0 Zinfandel, New World Pinot/Grenache/Pinotage
    0 1 1 Shiraz, South-American Cabernet, Petite Syrah, US Syrah/Merlot/Cabernet
    1 0 0 Nebbiolo (incl Barolo), Sangiovese (incl Brunello, Chianti), some French/Spanish Grenache, Gamay (Beaujolais), Trousseau (Arbois),
    1 0 1 Dolcetto, Barbera, French Malbec, Valpoliccela, Sagrantino, Nero d'Avola
    1 1 0 French Pinot (Burgundy), some French/Spanish Grenache
    1 1 1 French/Italian/Spanish Cabernet/Merlot incl Bourdeaux, Cabernet Franc, French Syrah, Syrah+Grenache+Carignan, Mourvèdre, Priorat, Garncha+Syrah+Carignan

    If you like or dislike something, noting the row it's in will give you an idea of why and what you might like in the future. Among other incredibly reductionist lessons to draw are: * The European stuff is funkier and not as fruity. * The French like oak more than the Italians. * Grenache seems to be a bit diffuse in this basis. Maybe think about something else.

  • Remember the bad times. There are many ways that regional weather can trash a year's batch of wine. That doesn't mean that everything from a bad year is awful, but unless your sommelier buddy has a good story for why its an exception, don't take the chance.

    Here are recent bad years, by region. * France: 2011, 2006 * Northern Italy: 2008, 2005 * Oregon/Washington: 2011, 2010 * New Zealand: 2010 * Argentina: 2011

    There are "good years" of course, but they're not all that good, and the prices get bid way up.

  • As I said, some flavor "notes" are a bit silly, and some, while less silly, are unlikely to be the determining factor in your enjoyment.

    • Syrah, Mourvèdre and Sangiovese may have a whiff of cured pork product about them.
    • Pinot and Nebbiolo can smell like flowers. Pretty flowers.

There you are. Go drink something.


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