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A Winemaker's Journal

UNCORKING A WORLD OF OPINIONS

By Elias Fernandez

No other liquid in the world seems to get as much attention and scrutiny as wine. We don’t read about soda. Only a handful of farmers flip the pages of technical publications dedicated to the properties of milk. Beer and spirits do get a share of the spotlight, but nothing like wine.

Wine gets examined from all angles in books, newspapers, magazines, web sites, blogs, newsletters, and TV and radio.

All this media interest however can be a source of confusion for wine consumers. With the attention comes a hailstorm of opinions on the goodness, badness or in-between-ness of various wines.

As a young winemaker it took me a long time to become Zen-like about the published critiques of the wines I helped make.

The truth is each vintage can generate evaluations that are all over the map. Here are two examples of tasting notes regarding the same Cabernet:

“Very backward … it began showing some tanky aromas, which then blew off to reveal some complex clove-like spice notes alongside the fruit. On the palate, though, the fruit still seems simple and the finish rather abrupt, so it’s hard to work out where this wine is going.”

Along with this review came a good numeric score, but it was not exactly a love connection. Now, here’s a different critic’s reaction to the same wine:

“ … a potentially perfect wine … a skyscraper that builds in the mouth with multiple dimensions, amazing layers of flavor, great delicacy, and tremendous purity, this inky purple-colored Cabernet offers extraordinarily pure crème de cassis notes intermixed with crushed rocks, flowers, sweet oak … and a sweet, 70-second finish …”

Could these writers have been tasting the same wine? Certainly. And I’m sure each gave an entirely accurate account of how the wine tasted and felt. To them. At that moment.

The bad punctuation here is to emphasize two important things about wine evaluation: wine is both about what appeals to your individual tastes and it’s the experience of a moment.

In part, wine is like music in that two intelligent people can have completely different preferences – one likes hip-hop, the other likes a good marching band. And neither is wrong. The same goes for wine. If you love white Zinfandel, have another glass. I prefer something with more complexity, but that doesn’t mean I’m more highly evolved.

Add to that wine is a substance that tastes different under varying conditions. If you drink a wine at a great restaurant with good friends while enjoying beautifully prepared food, it will taste better than if you drink it on your own out of a plastic cup on an airplane.

When consumers ask me what to do with wine reviews, I suggest trying wines on their own and comparing their own impressions with those of various critics. Finding one or two reviewers whose palates are similar to yours can be helpful. When they give a wine the thumbs up, you’ll know it’s worth a try. Ultimately your palate should be your guide.

 

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