Q: How many lawyers does it take to turn a wine tasting into a debate?
A: How many lawyers are at the wine tasting?
This past weekend I helped a friend host an event for some partners at his law firm and a handful of their summer associates. I poured four wines – two white, two red – from various regions in Italy, and while we didn’t actually have to moderate any overly heated debates, one of the oldest truths about wine was on vibrant display for all to see. The quality of a wine, all posturing by critics and academics aside, is an entirely subjective measurement. Those supposedly in the know can prattle on all they want about a wine’s structure and provenance and balance and all those things (and more!) but if a wine doesn’t taste good to you, then it’s not a good wine. Period. When it comes to taste and enjoyment, wine is practice, not theory.
This fact was quickly proven when the law gang dove into the Italian wines we offered. Italian whites are usually noted for their subtle qualities, not so much for being blockbusters with tons of power, and the two wines we compared fit this description easily. Our “left handed” wine was a 2011 Piero Mancini Vermentino di Gallura from the northern end of Sardinia, the “right handed” wine was a 2011 Bisson Bianchetta Genovese from the Ligurian coast.
The vermentino was more aromatic and in the mouth much fuller and seemingly more complex. The bianchetta was lighter in color, almost clear, with very little nose at all. In the mouth it was light, and if there was anything remarkable, it was the amount of acidity it showed. But then something funny happened. The bianchetta seemed to expand somehow, and its finish resonated far, far longer than should be expected from such a seemingly light wine. Out of nowhere came fruit and flavor that just didn’t seem possible. Which wine did the crowd like better? The answer, predictably, was both. The vote was split down the middle. Some folks loved the vermentino’s smooth feel and easy quaffability. Others loved the bianchetta’s crisp acidity and long finish. Not surprisingly, each camp didn’t really care for the other group’s wine.
The same dynamic prevailed, mostly, with the reds that followed. The wine on the left was the 2009 Occhipinti Nero d’Avola from Vittoria in the southeast corner of Sicily. This was paired against a 2009 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco. Two stunningly different wines. The nero d’avola showed intense, bright fruit and acid, with a hint of smoky earthiness in the background. The nebbiolo, once you got past the expected wall of tannins, was soft and smooth, with a pleasant balance of sweet and savory flavors. The disagreements on which was the better wine were summed up perfectly in one image: as the nebbiolo was tasted, from the back of the group, a woman was mouthing the words, “I love this wine!” and in the front of the gathering, a young man was scowling as he worked to scrape the tannins out of his mouth with his tongue. Once the food was served, though, most of the group sidled up to the nebbiolo, which was a great accompaniment to the various pastas, salads, and grilled meats that were served. The acidic and fruity nero d’avola did not win the day; some tasters found it too astringent, felt it was too young. Some likened it to chemicals or medicine. Clearly a wine that needs to be decanted in its youth. The next day, the nebbiolo was still drinking beautifully, but the nero d’avola had also come around. Still super bright and full of acid, but much more approachable, much more accessible.
Despite the fact that the person leading the tasting, who will go unnamed, tried to cram too much information into too short a period, those in attendance did learn a few things. They learned about some grapes heretofore unknown to them (can’t write about lawyers and not use heretofore), they learned more about terms like acid and tannin and balance, and they learned some amazing facts about this land the ancient Greeks called Oenotria – the land of vines. But most importantly they learned that the best wine to drink is the wine you like, no matter what anybody else tells you. As they used to say in Italy, back in the Latin days, “de gustibus non est disputandum.”
And that’s still true, even for lawyers.