I know people who insist on drinking only the best wines from any category, the wines with pedigree and reputation. After all, there is a reason why “the best” have earned their reputation. Although reputation isn’t a guarantee of quality and surely no guarantee that the wine will fit your personal taste, more often than not wines that have impressed critics over many vintages will have something to offer most wine lovers. But that is nevertheless a bad strategy for choosing what to drink.
Earlier this week we were in Philadelphia strolling through the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They have an extensive collection but we had only a few hours before heading out to dinner and couldn’t see it all. The visitors guide has a helpful list of highlights—the most famous works in the collection—and maps you to them so you can skip the lesser lights and visit the stars.
But we never take that option because you lose out on the thrill of making new discoveries. I would rather just stroll through the rooms without a plan looking for something that catches my eye. Instead of another bowl of fruit from Cezanne or sparkling, dappled lilies from Monet, I discovered the contemporary, Italian artist Marisa Merz who manages to be simultaneously charming and menacing. Had I toured the stars, I would have missed lesser works by famous figures like this peculiar work by Dali called Agnostic Symbol that I never knew existed.
Similarly, if you drink only signature wines from well-known producers you won’t discover the seemingly infinite variety of equally compelling wines that fly under the radar. These lesser known wines will likely show far more originality and distinctiveness than what you find among the stars since it’s the stars that define what conventionality and orthodoxy mean at any point in time.
Both in the art world and in wine, what gets famous has a lot to do with effective PR, cash, and the celebrity that comes with being a celebrity. The star system may sometimes stumble upon quality but it discovers only a small part of a larger universe of quality and seldom uncovers what is genuinely original.