Monday, May 21, 2012
How much does personal taste matter in judging?
But what about critics? Should Robert Parker et al acknowledge good qualities in wines they don't personally like?
Here's what got me thinking about this.
Michael Apstein, a colleague I have known for years, doesn't like fruit flavors in wine. We are very different there. He's an Old World drinker who likes secondary characteristics; he prizes elegance and balance and walks away from any sign of excess in oak, fruit or alcohol. He once said to me, "If I wanted juicy fruit flavors I would drink fruit juice."
We were paired last weekend at Critics Challenge, a San Diego wine competition, at my request. I also prize elegance and balance, but our opinions on fruit flavors are so different that, given the way Critics Challenge works, we are the perfect couple. At this competition, each wine is tasted by two writers but we don't have to agree. The wine gets whatever the best result is. In other words, if I give it a gold medal and he makes a frowny face, it gets a gold, and only I see his frowny face. Michael said, "No good wine is getting past this table."
We had a long flight of Cabernet Sauvignons on Saturday morning. Not only do I like fruit far more than Michael; I'm somewhat more tolerant of oak and alcohol. These wines had all three of those in spades.
So who ended up being more generous to these wines?
Dr. Apstein. I kept saying, "I would not drink this wine." Whereas Michael said more than once, "I wouldn't drink it, but it's good for the style."
I'm not sure whose approach was correct, and would like your opinion.
I'm writing this before the final tasting session, and I don't plan to be more generous, because of one peculiarity of Critics Challenge. If I give a wine a medal, I also have to provide tasting notes, which the winery can use in its marketing. So the medal could literally have my name on it. Thus in this competition, unlike the Concours Mondial, I give more weight to my personal opinion.
But is that fair? We sometimes judge fruit wines. The odds that I will ever again choose to open a bottle of apple or strawberry wine and drink a glass are slim. (We won't talk about Boone's Farm Kountry Kwencher and college.) So if I apply my personal standards, none would ever get a medal. But what if it's a really well made prickly pear wine? Doesn't it deserve a gold medal? Yet if somebody buys it and it tastes like prickly pear wine, do they then have the right to blame me?
Please, tell me what you think, because I plan to do this again next year. If you see "gold medal from W. Blake Gray" on a wine, how much expectation do you have that I would actually drink that wine? Or put another way, do you expect Robert Parker (et al) to actually drink the wines he gives the highest scores, and would you feel cheated if he doesn't?
Posted by W. Blake Gray at 6:00 AM