Monday, 3 February 2014

Why You Shouldn't Have a Favourite Wine

By Andrew Slowe

When I tell people I work in the wine industry I am normally and almost immediately asked the same question:
 'What's your favourite wine?' 
To which my go to answer is generally 'I don't know. Honestly.' 

This seems to shock some people, but my reasoning is that being around wine and trying and seeking out examples of all types of wine can be greatly distorted by comparing everything you try to your 'favourite'. Sure, it’s nice to have some reliable ‘go-to’ wines, but these are more fanciful, depending on mood as much as your dinner choices. 

A favourite limits you, like the ‘anything-but-Chardonnay’ argument. If it’s not your favourite wine why are you drinking it? If it’s Chardonnay based you’ve already convinced yourself you’re not going to like it, unless you’re ignorant of that fact, just like if you're keeping a revered 'favourite' wine in mind then anything else you taste will probably fail to meet your expectations. 
Your choice and your enjoyment are based hugely on prejudice. How can you be subjective or give the wine the attention it deserves if you don’t want it or want to like it? This is why having a favourite clouds your judgement.

When people tell me 'this is my favourite wine,' it always leaves me in trepidation. This is largely because it means they are asking me a) to appraise a wine that not only they like but has now become revered and thusly b) qualify their choice. 

So it was with an awkward smile on my face that I tried a bottle of Chateau Peyrabon 2001 which was outspokenly my MD's favourite wine. It was at a tasting event and I happened to bump into him near this table. 
'Here is a wine I simply had to try.' 
And I enjoyed. I even included it in a food matching evening I held (with beef wellington, if you're asking). It was a classic Haut-Medoc which had been given ample time (at 10.40am) to breath. The nose was full and clean but not in-your-face, with subtle hints of oak. It wasn't overly complex but it was ripe with rich berry fruits and soft, well-developed tannins finishing with light cherry-jam and cedar. It had been in bottle for around 10 years when I tried it and this was when it was at its best.

But this creates an entirely different problem with favourites: the memory of what you tasted gets distorted, and when you try it again, you're bound to end up at least slightly disappointed that it doesn't live up to what you remember, or think you remember.

 It was the following year, at the same event, that I was introduced to the 2004 vintage, and can you guess whose favourite wine it was again?  But it didn't have too much in common, if I'm honest. I found it a little too light, a little too flat and with not as much character as the 2001. Or maybe that's just reverence for my memory of tasting the 2001 speaking, and I guess there is my point. It's difficult to be objective when you're dealing with favourites.

Anyway, my inspiration for this post was that over the weekend I popped into my old place of work and discovered that they had one bottle of the 2001 left. I had to have it. For old time’s sake. This time with simple roast beef. 
Unfortunately, and you could probably have seen this coming by my reaction to the replacement vintage, it had now had too long in bottle, and those smooth tannins that had rounded off the fruits so delicately had all but gone. What was left was a wine which, while not undrinkable, had none of the quiet elegance or class on the last time I tasted it. Or maybe that's reverence speaking...

Photo taken from Jenny Downing's photostream under the Creative Commons License.


  1. Very insightful.

    Just got back from Hungary, tried a range of wines that were new to me, many of them very good.

    The Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos I enjoyed with dessert one evening (very simple chocolate souffle, with passionfruit sorbet) was just sensational, the tangy sharpness of the passionfruit offsetting the honey-layered smoothness of the Tokaji superbly.

  2. Great post Drew - I completely agree with your comments. I like most wines (except Loire reds - namely Chinon) and couldn't possibly name my favourite. I'm sure it's also a lot easier to pick a favourite if you've had a limited taste of all of the wonderful wines out there. The more we taste and explore the more impossible it is to pick a favourite; and, as you say, it's best to be open and without prejudice to appreciate wines and see them, for what they really are anyway.