amarchinthevines

Learning about wine, vines and vignerons whilst living in the Languedoc

Wine tasting, expert opinion

9 Comments

En francais

In the last blog I said that wine should be about enjoyment, whether you like the wine is surely the most important aspect of wine tasting. Yet, when I read tasting notes that issue is hardly ever mentioned. There are long descriptions of colour, aroma and flavours. There may be mention of the persistence of taste in the mouth, possibly of wine faults and, perhaps, of the typicity of the wine in terms of grape, origin and year. But not very often do you read whether the taster actually liked the wine.

I was, and still am, asked to judge in professional tastings whilst in France. I attended two, one for a well known wine guidebook and another for regional medal awarding. I have to say I came away rather disillusioned. There were some true benefits, having to analyse the wine according to sight, smell and taste with guidelines for marking those. Having to do so in a short space of time concentrated the mind and my French language skills.

One of my judging experiences

However, in one tasting the group I was working in was told in advance how many medals would be awarded, that is before the wines were tasted! Some bottles received medals which truly didn’t deserve them. In the other tasting there was discussion about our individual marks and thoughts but then as lunch approached the chair said he would just hand in his results so that lunch was not missed. In neither case was actually liking the wine ever discussed or taken into account. Importantly there was huge disagreement amongst the tasters, all of whom were professionals. Marks varied, they are always subjective no matter how much the guidelines are given to establish an objective framework for scoring.

Just this week two well known professionals had a little spat on Twitter about the reliability of scores. Many professionals defend their accuracy, but then they would wouldn’t they?

I have often tasted wines which were correct, well made, ripe grapes. Technically they deserved high scores but they were dull, lacking personality or excitement. Would I buy them? Certainly not. Yet they are the ones which often wear their medals on the bottle and that is a real boost to sales in supermarkets etc. This is one example of how a little education would benefit the wine drinker who simply wants a nice glass of wine and is not interested too much in the story behind it. Medals and high scores, in my opinion, can be misleading and a red herring.

award-winning-medals_for_wine-620x300

This must be a terrific wine! But, note the different opinions

Similarly I have drunk wines which had a hint of faults, a touch of volatility or a bit farmyardy and yet, they were exciting wines with personality. Not that the fault made them good, just that the wine could accommodate it.

I shall return to the question of the story behind wines in the next article.

As for newspapers and wine magazines. Too often they are basically publicity puff pieces, advertorials for wines. I gave up on wine magazines a long time ago. Until they are more honest and describe poor wines as well as good then I shall stick to tasters whose opinions I respect on the web or in person. And trust my own judgement too.

 

Author: amarch34

I'm a recently retired (early!) teacher from County Durham in North east England. I am going to be spending most of the next year in the Languedoc leaarning about wines, vineyards and the people who care for both.

9 thoughts on “Wine tasting, expert opinion

  1. I think you know my views, which are that Tastings of this nature must come with a caveat.

    1. As an experienced taster, I know that one sip from a line of fifty or so wines on a bench is not the same as enjoying a glass or bottle with friends. The latter is all about what’s “in” the glass as opposed to what’s “missing”.

    2. Over time I’ve come to seriously question why we mark wines with points. It’s an attempt to identify perfection. But if, like me, you seek a wealth of different wine experiences you certainly want to drink good wines, but not always perfection. Not perfection at the expense of character and personality.

    As a wine writer I’m rather shooting myself in the foot, am I not? But integrity matters, even if our judgement is sometimes flawed.

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  2. Refreshing to read a first-hand account of judging a wine competition. I’m with you on the tasting notes – while I appreciate the use of accepted terminology, I also want to know how the writer felt about the wine. Correct doesn’t always equal exciting! Thanks for this glimpse behind the curtain. Cheers!

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    • Thank you. My opinion is I suspect a minority one, but then I don’t depend on such engagements for my livelihood. Finding people whose opinions count and can be trusted are what makes the difference.
      I am certainly not saying that competitions and scores are all bad, just that they should come with caveats.

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  3. Your opinion is one I would trust. And that is why I do not think you are shooting yourself in the foot. Your honesty is clear and, therefore, makes your opinion worthwhile and trustworthy. By learning that our tastes overlapped substantially I know that when you recommend something I can give it a go and likely find it to my taste too. That is what I was referring to, your blog and others are where I turn to for suggestions and advice.
    A key point is that we pay our own way, no ‘free’ trips to taste, no sales staff to placate. There are honest journalists out there, I am certainly not impugning them all by any means, again that is where education comes in, finding the ones to trust.

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  4. As you doubtless know, Alan, I agree with you 100% on these issue, particularly the importance of enjoyment. BLIC does not make for enjoyment if you don’t like the taste.

    Saying how much you enjoy a wine is often painted as trivial and meaningless. I beg to differ. Of course, you can make crass instant judgements if you really want to, but it is also possible to put a lot of consideration into the pleasure a wine gives you, especially when you try to analyse why. I sometimes find it easier to assess a wine by so-called objective criteria than figure out how much I like it, particularly when tasting wines that are made with little regard for convention.

    And no, David, I don’t think you are shooting yourself in the foot. Be true to yourself and others will respect you – the ones that matter at least.

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  5. Thank you Steve, you express it very clearly. The comment about finding it hard sometimes to explain why I like a particluar wine rings so true. Just recently I had a very slightly oxidised Alsace Riesling GC and yet, that oxidation, was like the icing on the cake, adding a quality which made it sing. Why I have no idea but true nonetheless.

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  6. I’m a bit ate to this, but came to a personal conclusion about the difference between profession and amateur tasters a while ago. Professionals sort of assume a wine is “perfect” (100 points or whatever) and make deductions for technicalities. In France especially these can include whether the wine true to type. Personal likes or dislikes have to be suppressed because they are tasting for their clients, readers or those providing hospitality.
    Amateurs usually, barring obvious issues that may jar, look for qualities they like and admire. They conclude if they like the wine and would buy it.

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  7. I kind of agree Graham. If professionals are tasting for clients in trade then I get it, if for the wine public I do find it all a bit detached. You and I would take account of faults, ripeness etc simply because we recognise them and understand them. Enjoyment though must be part of appreciation?

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  8. Yes absolutely enjoyment is all. The problem with tasting environments, especially “wine fairs” and their ilk, is that enjoying a wine is challenging. Perhaps more memorable is talking to the producers as long as their patch isn’t too busy and they open up a bit rather than reel off a script.

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