11/04/2011 09:26 EDT | Updated 01/04/2012 05:12 EST

When it Comes to Wine, Trust Your Instincts

Flickr: jenny downing

We've all been there.

At the end of a long day, wandering around the liquor store trying to find a wine. Really, we just want to get home, open it up, and relax.

But staring at the wall of wine ahead of you, your brain having checked out when you left the office, you can't for the life of you figure out what you want. But then it beckons: a bright white label fluttering in the forced air of the LCBO, with a bold, black '90 pts' and some lovely schmooze written by someone you've never heard of, and you know you've got it. A winner of a wine that's perfect with chicken, beef or pasta.

Thank God for that guy. The one who gave your wine the 90 points and cut your search to 10 minutes (except for the ridiculous line up 'cause only one person's working the till for the 6 p.m. rush).

Marketing expert Tony Vander Baaren says those 90 point scores and write-ups are exactly what wine buyers need to sway them from one bottle to another.

"It's a product that consumers take advice on, more than any other product," he suggests. "A wine can be a representation of what they're all about. But there's thousands of wines in the world. How could they possibly know which ones are the best?"

And, he adds, our fear of looking stupid is what may have us forgo our preferences in favour of an expert's opinion.

But is that always best? A funny thing happened to us at a trade tasting the other day, that made us wonder, are critics always right?

We were tasting a flight of Barbarescos, the northern Italian wine from Piedmont. The guy behind the booth waxed poetic about the wine's nuanced flavours, marveling at its rustic leather notes mixing with dark fruit, tea leaves and rose petal.  


"I get none of that," I thought to myself, and wondered if it was just my palate that was off.  Courtney, actively taking notes, seemed to be enjoying it just fine.

"It was awarded two glasses from Gambero Rosso... if you care about that kind of thing," he pressed on. Gambero Rosso is a leading name in Italian wine reviews -- the most a wine can get is three glasses.

I tried the wine again. Still nothing. I wondered if, after an afternoon of tasting big and tannic Italian wines, my taste buds suddenly packed it in for the day. But then I rationalized that even if this guy thought this was the greatest wine of all time, and had a line up of top-notch critics behind him swearing the same, I didn't like it. And no matter how good a value it was, I wasn't going to buy it.

But that's OK. Wine critics taste thousands of wines each year -- and even amongst themselves, there's often variation in opinion. Wine critic David Lawrason, VP of the wine review site WineAlign, says once you've figured out where your preferences lie, you can use their expertise can help streamline your choices.

"The critic's main role is to point you to the best quality and value wines once you have decided what style of wines you like and what to drink at a certain moment."

And while wine buyers shouldn't abandon their preferences in favour of someone else's tastes, if you're open to it, Lawrason says a critic may offer new possibilities.

"If you trust the critic's opinion you will experiment beyond your personal preferences to explore the wide world of wine. That is the goal."

And if you try something new, and you don't like it, who cares? The best part about wine, is that bottles are like busses. If you don't get one, another one always comes along. And chances are you'll find it right above that big, bold '90.'