Trusting Your Own Taste in Wine and Food

We have friends who simply cannot bear to drink a wine unless it has a 91 or greater score in Wine Spectator Magazine. Everything else is swill to them. Worse still, they simply will not go to any New York or New Jersey restaurant unless it has a Zagat rating of 23 or higher. To them, a restaurant that doesn't score well in Zagat's obviously can't be any good.

There are three distinct levels of tragedy in this.

First they guarantee that they'll always overpay for their wine and food. Second, they subsume their choices and wants to an unknown group of experts who can't possibly know what they like. And third, by doing these things, they'll never develop any genuine trust in their own tastes.

You might think that you can make better choices when you follow seemingly objective opinions from "experts." In reality, however, you are actually limiting your range of choices. Worst of all, you are building a habit of letting others do your thinking for you.

Here's the bottom line: Enslaving your preferences to others is the polar opposite of consumer empowerment, and it's contrary to everything Casual Kitchen is all about.

Here's a simple example why I think no one should subsume their choices and tastes to score, a rating, or any other seemingly objective measure of food or wine quality. A few months ago we had a wine tasting with friends, and I challenged everyone to blind taste-test two chiantis. I asked each person to tell me 1) which chianti they thought was the most expensive, and 2) which chianti they liked better.

None of us really has a "palate" in the winetasting sense. However, out of our group of four, three of us could easily tell which of the chiantis was the most expensive. Even more amazingly, all four of us still liked the cheaper chianti (which cost $15) more than the expensive one (which cost $35).

We chose for ourselves what we liked better, and happily, our choices ran counter to both the prices of the wines and the rating (apparently, the cheaper Chianti wasn't worthy of a rating because it didn't even have one). Did we prefer the less expensive wine because we have bad taste? Are our palates simply blind and deaf to good wine?

Does it really even matter? We like what we like. Isn't that a much better measure of your preferences than some wine or restaurant rating made up by people who don't even know you?

What is the insight here? It's that preferences are never objective, and your personal tastes will always be more important than the preference of any so-called expert.

Develop your own taste and your own palate. Don't rely solely on wine ratings or restaurant ratings. And most importantly don't pattern or reframe your taste preferences because of what some team of experts says. You can think and choose for yourself, and you don't need somebody else to tell you what wine tastes good or what food is desirable.

You are a better judge of that!

Related Posts:How to Start a Casual and Inexpensive Wine Tasting Club
27 Themes and Ideas for Wine Tasting Club Meetings
How Do You Define Truly Great Restaurant Service?
Ten Rules for the Modern Restaurant-Goer
How to Use Food and Wine Jargon Without Sounding Pretentious

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Anonymous said...

I agree. My husband and I are fortunate that we actually enjoy many wines that are cheap (as in $10 or so). =) Plus, we like Asti better than Dom Perignon.

Laura said...

I don't drink wine, so I can't comment on that part of the post, but the general idea of following your own preferences is something I wholeheartedly support. And don't you think the cost/ratings issue goes both ways? I don't buy things just because they're cheaper/highly rated, and I also don't avoid things just because they're expensive/dissed by some critic. Being happy with my choices is more important than trying to fit into whatever is trendy at the moment. Another great post!

chacha1 said...

I'd hazard a guess that people rarely try cooking with unusual ingredients unless they have first eaten said ingredients at a restaurant, and a lot of restaurants which feature unusual ingredients tend to be on the more expensive side.

For example, I doubt I would ever have done anything with oxtails had I not had something delicious made with oxtails at the Four Seasons. You don't find oxtail ravioli at the Cheesecake Factory.

Ratings are subjective, but not completely irrelevant. A rating is likely to accompany a more substantive review that will help guide you.

Marcia said...

I love wine, but Trader Joe's has taught me that good wine doesn't have to be expensive. I like what I like.

However, with restaurants...I used to eat out. A lot. A LOT. Now I cook at home most of the time. I find that when I eat out, I am usually disappointed - my food is much better.

On the occasional chances that I do eat out, I really try to check reviews before going. I do it so infrequently, I want a 4 or 5 star meal, not a 2 star.

My husband and I went to a well known local spot for healthy food. It was "meh". Not great service and the food was mediocre. What a disappointment. And we paid for a babysitter too.

I drove my friend nuts on a vacation once, choosing the well-rated restaurants when she wanted to eat burgers every day. But the food I chose was good! She was disappointed in her jambalaya at a restaurant. It was an Asian seafood restaurant!!

Daniel said...

These are all good insights. Agreed that there are trendy wines, foods and restaurants--all of which you can follow slavishly and overpay for, assuming you are determined to get separated from your money.

I'd also agree that ratings are not irrelevant. What's foolish is letting the rating do all of your thinking for you.

Keep the thoughts coming!


Melissa said...

I'm going to wander off in a bit of a different direction on this, but still related...

It's funny because while this seems so obvious - trust your own taste/judgment, duh - for me it hasn't been so easy. Because I came to food and cooking so late, I had (and sometimes still have) this terrible habit of going with what other people tell me is great rather than trusting my own instincts. It's one of the things that made blogging stressful for me.

In fact, I had a harsh lesson on this recently. I decided I was going to make fried rice for the first time. I had a pork loin and I figured I'd use that as the protein. So I went hunting for recipes. I found one from a guy who is a very long time blogger and therefore very "trusted" by other cooks, so I thought, okay, I'll try his.

Total. Fail. We hated it.

When I thought about it afterward, I told Steve that it was a good - and hopefully final - lesson to me to trust my own instincts. I knew from the ingredient list that we weren't going to like it. But I still wasted $15 finding out for real. UGH. Never again.

Melissa said...

Oh! Also? For the restaurant bit? I do trust Yelp to some degree, but more because I've been on there for 5 years and have narrowed my friends list to people I know have nearly identical tastes as mine. That helps a lot.

Jennifer Galatioto said...

its really amazing to trust zagat, people who you don't even know writing those reviews. i would much rather go on the recommendation of a friend. and i love cheap wine! great article. lots to think about.

NY Wolve said...

There is a fair amount of research that people have a bias to "like" something more if they are told it is expensive. Specifically, in wine, I recall seeing a study where they serve people the same wine but say one cost $10 and another $100; people prefer the $100 wine more.

As I have aged, I have come to appreciate simpler foods. I have eaten at lots of fancy restaurants, and the ones I go back have good, simple kitchens where the food tastes great. As much as it is a cliche, Blue Hill in New York is the epitome of this. Simple, great, fresh food. I will even eat at food carts and delis where they have a great taste. (I recently wrote an ode to a Spicy Korean Rice Bowl on my blog.)

So I heartily agree. Trust your taste and eat what you like.

ConsciouslyFrugal said...

This might be pure arrogance on my part (might? ha!), but I've learned that most people, experts included, like crap. I like crap too, but I want my crap to be obvious crap. Like corn dogs, for instance. I like corn dogs. Corn dogs are crap. But far too many folks find things akin to corn dogs delicious of the packaging or sales pitch is nice.

I can't tell you the number of times someone has raved to me about a restaurant and I've happily visited, only to wonder if they know the difference between crap and delicious. 'Cuz, um, seriously?

Or the sommeliers who rave about a wine and it's just n-a-s-t-y. Koolaid in a bottle nasty. And these folks study wine!

I agree, taste is subjective. "Experts" on matters of taste are a far cry from an expert neurosurgeon. But it's all really about a locus of control, isn't it? Someone who allows others to define good taste is probably going to be sheep-like with most everything.

Daniel said...

More good thoughts. NY Wolve, thanks in particular for raising the behavior finance aspect of how price impacts peoples' preferences.

Price often becomes a firm anchor for people for their perception of value, whether justified or not. The good thing is, when it's not justified, it creates juicy, exploitable opportunities for more mindful consumers to get a lot more value for their money.


Leigh Shulman said...

Which also means they'd never try those amazing tamales, pickled mango and other things that were delivered by bucket by the family kids, still hot from their mother making them at home.

Or the best empanadas, fried goat cheese, found on the side of the road between Cafayate and Salta.

Daniel said...

Leigh, couldn't agree more. Reminds me of some queso frito we had in Nicaragua that was simple, unpretentious and to die for.

Thanks for stopping by!