Expertise in hedonic or aesthetic matters must always be trumped by personal taste.
In wine, as in most things, "I don't know much about it but I know what I like" is pretty near unanswerable, except with a congratulatory (albeit sometimes doubtful) grimace.
One undoubted advantage that wine journalists have, however, (leaving aside the vague possibility that their tastes might be usefully educated) is breadth of experience–being acquainted with more of the wines on the shelf than the average wine drinker.
It's never clear to me, in fact, how that average person decides on which wine to pop into the shopping trolley. Price is usually the prime consideration, but after that?
Previous acquaintance with the wine is presumably often the key–and the reason why so many wine lovers seem to be quite the opposite of experimental (forgoing a lot of sensual adventure but staying safe).
Advice from a friend (or occasionally, I hope, a professional commenter) whose tastes you know is undoubtedly useful too.
But if you're just standing there dithering in front of the R50 to R60 reds, what then?
A gold sticker from some or other competition might at least provide an alibi: if your friends sneer at it, or at you, you can claim that, at least, some bunch of cognoscenti liked it–yes, experts who sniffed and swirled around their mouth (but didn't swallow a sample of the stuff and ventured to pronounce on its quality, ignoring any context in which real people would drink it.
I suspect that choosing a wine because the label goes with the colour of your curtains or your boyfriend's eyes would be an equally sound procedure.
Last week I found an acquaintance looking somewhat at a loss before the wine racks of a local supermarket. For his daily red, this friend of the wine industry (any bottle-a-day person is valuable!) had hoped to find one of his usual favourites at about R50, preferably the Solms-Astor Langarm (a terpsichorean choice I would second–it's an easy-going but interesting blend; the companion white is called Vastrap).
But no luck. Until his–ahem!–expert pal showed up and loftily assured Matthias that, of the not many reds in his price range, there was little of interest.
Couldn't I persuade him rather to try some whites–perhaps a nice chenin or chardonnay from the Winery of Good Hope if we could find them?
Especially at that level, there are more good whites around than reds, I reckon.
But no, if it's red wine you're after, the most delicious little chenin is irrelevant, superfluous.
Reluctantly admitting that I couldn't actually pontificate about each and every wine Pick n Pay offered but,shuddering slightly at some of them, I looked in vain for some stalwart inexpensive favourites: Goede Hoop perhaps (pinotage, cabernet, shiraz–all good, honest and very drinkable).
Or some co-op offerings–Riebeek Cellars, for example, does recommendable examples of shiraz, the standard one and a superior version in the Few Good Men range.
Or Leeuwenkuil, roughly from the same area–also with great red bargains drawing on the Swartland's red treasure, shiraz. I was getting warm. Swartland shiraz. There on the bottom shelf were bottles of Porcupine Ridge Syrah and Syrah-Viognier.
I made my recommendation and left Matthias to choose.
He might well have decided on something with a gold sticker instead, for all I know.