Zen Wine: The Death of Wine Multitasking (via Chuck Norris)

Vinted on November 11, 2009 binned in commentary, wine appreciation, zen wine

As much as social media wine wizards and millennials rail against established wine media, most of them (myself included) share with those ‘old media’ types a similar and mistake-prone approach to wine evaluation and appreciation.

And that is, the rapid-fire assessment, review, and perfunctory judgment of any given wine.  We are judge, jury and executioner of the glass’ contents, often within the span of two minutes.

We see this happen all the time – in fact in some cases (like certain Twitter Taste Live events, or the “speed dating” wine blogging at the Wine Bloggers Conference), it’s encouraged and necessary.  I often participate in and have grown to love those events, provided that we don’t take them too seriously.

And we shouldn’t take them seriously, at least as far as true wine appreciation is concerned.  Why?  Because every glass of wine, from the pedestrian to the sublime, is speaking to you, trying to tell you something about itself – you need only take the actual time to listen to it.

In the case of many wines made in the ‘Old World’ style (what my compadre Randall Grahm calls Modernist), where typicity of place and nuanced complexity are the goals, that message may be “Come back later.”  New World (Postmodernist) wines usually (and probably unfairly) fare better in rapid-fire evaluation scenarios, precisely because they more often offer their treasures quickly and liberally – “Hey! Over here! I’m talkin’ to YOU!

In a globally-connected, information-based economy like ours, we are progressively programmed with positive reinforcement to spend as little time as possible on something – in fact, we’re rewarded for doing many things at once, and the more quickly we can shove them into the same time slot, the better.

The trouble is, if you want to appreciate wine fully, you need to dump the Speed Racer + Multitasking Pro persona.  Pronto…

The strange (and wonderful) fact is that you owe it to the wine in your glass to give it your full concentration, even if only for a minute or two.  It will, I promise you, tell you something during that time – you need only have the patience to listen.

How is it that you come to owe a glass of wine anything? Well, you know how people often quip that “everything happens for a reason?”  They’re right.  Sort of.  The Universe has, though a series of progressive events, lead you to this moment, with a glass of that new wine in your hands.  The journey that the wine itself has taken to be in front of you is a kind of miracle, from bud to grape to fermentation vessel to bottle… and let’s not even get into the dust of the stars settling to Earth from the Big Bang to create the molecules that eventually came together to form your glass.

And no, I am not drunk right now – the entire history of the Universe is coming together in this moment between you and that glass, and the meaning of life in any given moment is that given moment. So how could you not owe the moment with that glass to at least some degree?

If that’s too much Zen Wine for you, then here’s another take:

I often hear from budding oenophiles that they “could never pick out those nuances in a glass of wine” and that is best left to some sort of trained professional, as if they were scared of extending a gas line as part of a DIY home project.  It’s times like these when I need to suppress the urge to deliver a Chuck Norris-style roundhouse kick to the side of their faces (that would be rude, of course, since it would likely spill the wine in their glass).

That approach is total crap – if it was legit, it wouldn’t warrant the Chuck Norris face kick.  Anyway, if you pay attention, that wine in your glass will tell you everything that you need to know about it. No license required.

Paying attention to that wine, with total focus, will do more for your wine appreciation skills than reading 5 years worth of any wine periodical. 

So put the Chuck Norris smackdown on your wine multitasking!

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • susanguerra


    Hi Joe: Great post and so very true. I generally only write about a wine that I have had some time to linger over because I agree that otherwise you are not doing it justice. I was raised in the "Italian" style of food and wine as religion and in Italy (as evidenced by a recent visit there) it seems there is still no such thing as multi-tasking! You mention the traditional wine media and as an interesting aside, I sat on a Rioja tasting panel a few months ago with someone from a well known publication who was writing scores down for each wine faster than I could lift the glass. I found that very curious and also a confirmation of how little value there is in scoring.
    PS: Feel better! Sue

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Susan. I love the parallel you brought up with Italy – during an 11 course meal, you can forget about multi-tasking altogether (unless you count eating & drinking as doing multiple things at the same time :-).

      • susanguerra


        Hmmm… Now that I think about it–there is eating, drinking and wild hand gesticulating. So maybe we CAN count that as multi-tasking! :-)

  • @kenmoorhead


    Excellent post! I've only recently become confident enough to start using a rating scale / point system. I've found that I can't develop my palette if I don't try! It may take years to get to the "pro" level… but at some point they had only been doing it for six months as well!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks! At some point, even Robert Parker had to take his first wine sip, right?

  • RandyHall


    Hey Joe, I wanted to say that this is the greatest blog post about wine I've ever read (at least until I read your next one). I want to read and discuss this as part of this week's Wine Biz Radio, it's that good.

    I also wanted to comment however about the circumstance when you taste a wine and what it says to you is "I suck. Don't drink me." Because those wines DO exist. No amount of "come back later" mentality is going to make them anything better. That being said, most wine reviewers won't call out that wine as the plonk that it is, but that's a battle best fought when you have really, really good legal representation (per David Honig).

    • 1WineDude


      Wow -brother, I thank you deeply for that. I'm starting to feel though that you need to add a few other wine blogs to your Google Reader account! :-).

      Would be honored to discuss it on WBR with you guys, provided I'm healthy enough to do it this week.

    • 1WineDude


      Regarding the wines that tell you that they suck – I agree with you; best thing to do is to pour them down the drain. I have called out plonk on this blog before (but after your legal comment, I'm concerned that maybe I shouldn't have just said that… :-).

  • Jeff


    Great post. Anytime someone can drop some Chuck Norris in with something as hoity-toity as wine, it's a good day…

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks!

      Chuck Norris does not "appreciate" wine. He sometimes allows wine to appreciate *him*! :)

  • Kevin Glowacki


    For me, I almost always only write about wines that I’ve had with dinner. I don’t feel that wines tasted in a vacuum or out of food context can truly be understood or appreciated, especially if it comes from outside California. I do have a lot of experience with it, as I was in retail, where the norm was sniff, swirl, sip and spit, then make a decision as to whether I wanted to carry the wine or not. I always thought, what food would this go with. That or, do I really need another f’in $10 Chardonnay from California! (Wine reps miss the first rule of sales, evaluate what the client’s needs are.)

    As to Randy Hall’s comment, yes, calling out a wine for being plonk is something I’m scared of to some degree. I’m a small fish and have no funds for legal representation. I will make off hand comments as to why I don’t like it, (too much bell pepper in a Carmenere for a recent example), but I never call it outright crap. I just say it isn’t my cup of tea or preferred style. Your mileage may vary.

    Great post Joe, keep up the stellar work and forcing the rest of us to raise our game.

    • 1winedude5036


      Thanks, man!

  • Steve Heimoff


    There's lots of plonk, some damned good stuff, and a ton inbetween. Was that way in ancient Greece and Rome and it's that way today. By the way, you contradict yourself, no? when you say "We are judge, jury and executioner of the glass’ contents, often within the span of two minutes" and then, a little later: "The strange (and wonderful) fact is that you owe it to the wine in your glass to give it your full concentration, even if only for a minute or two." I mean, 2 minutes either is, or isn't, enough time to properly evaluate a wine. I myself spend about 4 minutes per wine, but it can be done in 2 minutes. Having said that, evaluating a wine for professional purposes (which is my job) is different from enjoying a wine as it evolves in the glass (which I do at dinner). Apples and oranges. As long as every wine I review is held to the same standard (same airing time), then the system is fair. But I do often use the phrase "gets better in the glass" because, even in the 4 minutes I take with each wine, there can be a dramatic evolution. Of the wine, I mean; not of me.

    • 1WineDude


      I think you hit the nail on the head Steve in pointing out the difference between evaluating wine for a processional purpose, and tasting the wine to really appreciate and connect with it in some way. The situations aren't totally mutually exclusive in my view, but the approach is fundamentally different. As for whether I prefer to spend 2 mins. contemplating a wine, or 2 mins. reviewing it with a host of other stuff going on, there's no contest – one is an act of pure pleasure, the other is (as you rightly point out) pretty hard work.

    • 1WineDude


      Whoops,forgot to talk about the 2 mins thing: Sorry I wasn't clearer on this, it's not meant to be a literal take. What I meant was that having 2 mins. of really concentrated focus on a wine, with the understanding that some wines MUST be left alone at first and then revisited later and accepting the personal responsibility to recognize those situations, is far better than several mins. of tasting a wine with our minds already focusing on the next wine to be tasted (or some other distraction).

      Cheers!

  • Thomas Klafke


    I don't owe anyting to a glass of wine. In fact it owes me a nice tasting experience because I'm the one who bought the bottle off the shelf and paid my hard earned money for it. However, I do think that it should be consumed in a fashion that respects the beverage. That is to say I wouldn't go drinking it out of a coffee mug or an old big gulp cup!

    Wine is often taken too damn serious by people because it's an amazing beverage, but saying you owe anything to it is rediculous. That's like saying you owe the ocean something or any of God's creations. (If you believe in God). You don't owe the creation, but perhaps you owe the creator……….hmmm

    • 1WineDude


      See, it's interesting because I do feel that I owe the ocean respect. I do expect the wine, having paid for it, to deliver some goods, but I still think that I owe it some time as well. But, having said that… it could be argued that industrial plonk is like m&ms or similar consumer good, and really doesn't warrant too much respect…

  • TallyWineGuy


    Although tasting a wine in 2 (or even 4) minutes may be adequate, it has certain hazards. First, because wine evolves (as aknowledged by Steve) the 2 minute evaluation is just a 2 minute snapshot of the wine's complete evolution. In 2 minutes one can tell a lot about the wine, but more can be learned with more time. Second, although some consider this anathema, sometimes I return to my scores at the end of a tasting or next day and revise my scores in light of other wines. For example, I often think to myself "that wine wasn't 5 points better than the other one", etc. Typically this recalibration of my score is no more than +/-2 points. If this recalibration is warranted (and I think it is) then this is another way that the 2 minute eval is incomplete.

    • 1WineDude


      I should have been a bit clearer in the post I suppose, but the 2 mins. isn't meant to be taken literally in terms of time. What I meant really was, if you spend a small amount of **concentrated** time on tasting a wine, with the expectation that you might have to come back to it later (again with full awareness & attention), that is far better for your wine appreciation skills than trying to pass total judgment on a wine based on a quick sniffs and a spit.

  • TallyWineGuy


    Last, one reason that the 2 minute eval is done is that the evaluator has many wines to taste and score–some professional critics score 100+ per day. I am prepared to admit that not all palates are the same, but personally after tasting 12 (or so) wines of the same style or varietal. I experience palate fatigue and it becomes more difficult for me to differentiate between (elements in) the wines I'm tasting, especially if they're all the same style or varietal. In other words, after tasting 12 (or so) wines I become a less reliable taster.

    • 1WineDude


      Totally with you on that one – and like taste, palate fatigue thresholds vary with individuals as well!

  • Whitey


    "As long as every wine I review is held to the same standard (same airing time), then the system is fair."

    That's your definition of a 'fair system?' Let me guess, you specialize in New World Wines, probably California, right?

    How about a system where each and every wine was rated by its ability to go compliment a bite of food? How would acid-less or acidulated New World wines fair? You like those 15.5% pinots with your dinner, or would you rather have a Burgundy? That is a rating I'd rather see, versus some ridiculous "score" based on how well a wine show alone (sans food) on the first sip.

    Score are for simpletons. Write good, descriptive tasting notes with quality conclusions at the end, and stop trying to be Robert Parker. That pinhead likes wine that smells like band-aids, for god's sake.

    • 1WineDude


      Hi – I'll let Steve respond but in fairness to him, he is WE west coast editor and so tastes predominately CA wines. Having said that, I'd be willing to bet that Steve's palate for *any* wines would smoke most of ours…

  • David Honig


    Chuck Norris wears Tim Tebow pajamas.

    • 1WineDude


      Yes, but they are made from rattlesnakes.

  • Dylan


    Believe it or not, this method of concentration is also helpful with people. You'd be amazed at the amount of respect you can earn from someone by not clicking away on a Blackberry while in their presence.

    • 1WineDude


      Hey, man, could you repeat that? I'm sorry, I wasn't listening…

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