It’s Not You, It’s ‘Meh’: How Many Tastings Are Too Many?
When to tell your wine it's time for a beer
Two of the seemingly most popular wine descriptors used by visitors of wine country on Yelp are “just okay” and “meh” (or sometimes just “eh”). A couple of other phrases that pop up again and again are: “I wasn’t blown away” and the wines were “not memorable.” Are there a lot of mediocre wines in the world? Sure. But I don’t think that is the problem here, because many of the wineries that get such “blah” (that’s another one) reviews make really excellent wine.
I think the problem is that too many visitors try to visit too many wineries and taste too many wines in one day. A major beef that sommeliers, journalists and winemakers have with professional wine critics like Robert Parker, Jr. and James Suckling is that they tend to give the highest scores to wines that have the most flavor, intensity and highest alcohol. The wines, that in other words, blow them away. This is because after tasting a lot of wines, the human palate gets tired. You will simply not be as sensitive to the nuance, flavor and structure of the 12th wine you taste as you were to the first (forget about the 100th, as is often the case with critics), and yet, it is not uncommon for visitors, wanting to maximize their trips, to schedule six or more tastings a day (with 4–6 tastes being poured at each stop, that’s 24–36 different wines). Anyone’s palette can get burned out. If you find yourself needing to be “blown away” by a wine, you have probably reached your limit.
Tasting wine is different than drinking wine. When you taste, you are paying attention to the aromas, the flavors, the texture, the finish. You are being mindful of what the varietals are, where the grapes are grown, how the wine is made, what food it will pair with and what about it is pleasing or not-so-pleasing to your palate. This can be really exhausting, and at some point, you are going to want a beer.
When friends who are visiting wine country ask me for recommendations, the first thing I tell them is to limit their tasting tour to four visits a day maximum, with a meal in the middle. I also recommend starting or finishing with sparkling wine (or both) and tasting in a way that will warm up and not exhaust the palate. Visiting four wineries that all make big, powerful, tannic red wines, for example, means you are going to end the day with purple teeth and a craving for a ribeye, if you don’t simply pass out in the backseat. Instead, throw in a winery that specializes in white wine or light-bodied, high-acid reds like pinot noir or barbera and you will have a wonderful, satisfying day.
A lot of visitors seem to think that having a designated driver or renting a limo means you should visit a dozen wineries a day. But even if you don’t get drunk and end up in a ditch, you have won only half the battle. Even spitting doesn’t lessen palate fatigue. It’s not fair to the wine, the tasting room staff, or yourself to try and do too much. Tasting wine can be expensive, and if you can’t taste it anymore, what is the point? There are plenty of good cocktails and craft beers to be had in wine country and will provide a much-needed reset (so you can once again enjoy wine with dinner).
If you find that “meh” is really the best descriptor you can come up with for a wine — maybe it’s not the wine; maybe it’s just time for a margarita.