Beware The Wine Assumption

As Benny Hill famously pointed out, when you assume you can make an ass out of u and me.

Wine assumptions are especially dangerous, for you’re holding a closed and sealed vessel, rolling it around in your hands, looking at the label, and invoking (fake) magical powers that will tell you how good or bad that wine is before you even taste it.

Beware the wine assumption!

Going back through my notes, I found these photos and tasting notes from 2019.

Take a close look at it. Now, let us assume some stuff.

Assumption 1: It’s Merlot so it must be simple and boring.

We’re still in the post-Sideways world, where Merlot sales are sluggish across the board. So that’s validation to believe Merlot kind of sucks, right? Aren’t all Merlots kind of the same? 

Assumption 2: It’s a non-vintage wine so it must be made with leftovers.

How often do you come across a non-vintage dated that is not sparkling? If they are combining vintages, there must be a reason, so the assumption is that the quality isn’t good enough to make a vintage-dated bottling.

Assumption 3: Crappy-looking label and cheap bottle = crappy wine.

It’s an easy assumption to make. There is little thought put into this label, and the bottle is a standard-issue make-your-own-wine-in-a-kit kind of glass. 

Assumption 4: It’s super affordable ($9-12) so can’t be that good.

This is an interesting assumption, for the research suggests that most consumers when presented with blind selections, cannot differentiate between cheap and expensive wine. So why do you buy expensive wines? To tell ourselves a story. To solidify a position. To feel like we want to feel when we drink expensive wine. And cheap wine? That’s for cheapskates, and if that is you, then you relish how little money you can spend regardless of quality or lack thereof. (A must-read article is here —

Assumption 5: It’s an odd little wine labeled “Rhône Wine,” the winery is located in Tavel, yet it’s made out of Merlot. 

Merlot is not allowed in Rhône Valley bottlings; little is planted there, and Tavel only makes rosé. Something is fishy here, and maybe the wine will smell like fish. That’s the assumption, anyway!

Assumption 6: It’s 14% alcohol, “so, therefore, it’s going to taste like …”

This is the language of the alcohol assumist, a new category of wine drinker that grabs a bottle looks at the alcohol content, and can magically pontificate about how it’s going to taste, whether it will be in balance or out of balance, and what foods it will go well or not well with. All through a number. An amazing power, those alcohol assumists have! We’re seeing this more and more in the wine world and it’s probably the most dangerous assumptions a wine drinker can make.


The makers of this wine are the second generation of Domaine Amido. Photo: Amandine, the founder’s granddaughter, and Antoine Berthaud pose outside their Domaine in Tavel.

Truth 1: It’s imported by Charles Neal Selections, and that’s important

One thing I’m doing more of in 2020 is reminding consumers to turn the bottle around and note who imports a particular wine. Great individuals who import wine and sell nationally, such as Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, and Charles Neal, represent people who take their work seriously and separate the wheat from the chaff regularly. Favorite locally owned and operated importers include The Wine Company, Domaines and Appellations (Annette Peters), The Piedmont Guy (Weston Hoard), New France Wines, Lompian, WorldWide Cellars (Joe Kotnik), Small Lot, and many more. We have a great importer scene here in the Twin Cities. Get to know who imports your wine!

Truth 2: It’s made by Domaine Amido, a small family-run operation.

It’s a third-generation wine-farming family that works 27 hectares of land in and around Tavel, in the Southern Rhone. The family wine operation, and their specialty, is in Tavel, so it’s on the label. They farm with no herbicides or pesticides, they work the land by hand, and they do all the things we wish every winery did.

Truth 3: This was frigging DELICIOUS!

Great Merlot is round, soft, juicy, but not simple. The key is in the mid-palate, after the ‘attack’ of the initial flavor and before the ‘finish’ at the end. Most simple Merlots lack the mid-palate, which has added to the lack of enthusiasm for Merlot in the post-Sideways world. This wine was generous, giving, and complete. 

Truth 4: Sometimes prices don’t reflect the quality

It goes both ways. We’ve all had underperforming expensive wines. But what joy to find a bargain, a wine that over-delivers! The irony is this: if this wine was priced at $17.99 or $19.99, it might sell better. Don’t tell the winemaker or wholesaler!

How we found this wine

I remember we needed some Merlot for a wine class. I was behind schedule and rushed to Thomas Liquors to grab a few bottles before the event. This is yet another example of a trusted and local wine shop coming to the rescue. I asked Mike Thomas for a good, affordable Merlot, and he immediately took me to this one.

“Peter (Vars, the wine manager there) LOVES this one!”

That’s all the validation I needed, for Peter is incredible at what he does.

I rushed to the class, popped this wine I’d never had before, and was blown away. It was absolutely delicious, despite all the assumptions I had in my head.

It was the perfect wine for the night.

Never assume you know just from looking at the bottle. Always remember Benny Hill.

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