VintageTexas Sunday Cyclopedia of Wine: Quandary – It is possible to not like a wine and accept that it is still a well-made wine?
A small but significant percentage of wines exhibit “off-characters”. These can usually be identified and dispensed with summarily, often down the drain in the kitchen sink. However, even more often, wines pose us challenges, not because they are flawed, but because we may not like them.
What do I mean? Well, wines can be simply outside our past wine tasting experience; i.e. different from what we normally imbibe. Wines can also be made in a style that one doesn’t really prefer or even like. Now starts the quandary. What if I like the wine, but you don’t, even worse, what if I say the wine that you don’t like it not a flawed wine?
One of the greatest challenges for a budding wine enthusiast is to identify good wines from bad and to approach this process in a critical and unbiased manner, not based on ones likes and dislikes. This approach may seem strange to some and even unacceptable to others. Why? Because most of us have spent nearly a lifetime cultivating our individual palates to accept only things we like. Because of this, it is easy for me or you to say that a wine we don’t like must be bad and consequently “flawed”.
However, it is plausible, and quite possible, that I don’t like a wine, but it still may be a good presentation of the particular grape varietal and/or winemaking style. This can be a difficult thing to admit, but it is an essential step in the evolution of a wine aficionado to the ranks of professional when he/she can accept this situation. Once it is accepted, then and only then can one proceed to critically and objectively evaluate wines on their own merits.
During the recent, Tempranillo Day tasting, I found such a situation. There was a wine in the tasting that was not made in the classic Tempranillo style of Rioja with crisp acidity and a sturdy backbone derived from extensive oak aging. However, the wine presented red and dark fruit characteristics (which is the norm for Tempranillo). It had a medium extraction of color, fruit forward character and low acidity yielding an easy drinking style (much different from the stout, classic Tempraillo style). This wine was obviously meant to be consumed young and in a fun and lighthearted manner. While this wine was not made in my favorite Tempranillo style, it was made with an acceptable winemaking style and wasn’t flawed.
Then, in the Tweetchat I made a comparison of this wine to the Joven (young) wines that I had imbibed in Spain several years ago that I enjoyed immensely while standing in the Tapas bars in Madrid and Granada. These were simple wines made for quaffing and accompanying good conversation rather than being the topic of the conversation.
Well, this viewpoint on the wine seemed to upset several involved in the #TempranilloDay TweetChat that were engaged in bashing the wine, the winemaker and then me and my character, too. What was my sin? Basically, for having the outlandish comment that maybe they just did not like the wine, and that the wine wasn’t really a flawed wine.
I once listened to a noted wine expert talk at a session at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. He first talked on for minutes about how much he disliked a particular wine that we were presented. Then, he proceeded to talk even longer about its vitues; why it was so well accepted and positioned in the general marketplace as an everyday household wine and focused on its ripe fruit, low acidity, easy drinking style and lack of flaws. This was a presentation that I will never forget. It gave me a lesson in wine tasting and evaluation that I try to keep in my mind when I evaluate and judge wines.
Lesson: Dislike of a wine doesn’t equate to the wine being flawed.
Funny you should mention this, because I just wrote something along those lines. Namely, that if you look at dog competitions, you’re looking at, well, is this English Sheepdog an excellent example of the breed standard, or am I angry that they’ve got too much fur for hot Tennessee summers and they can’t see worth a damn. My position is that when evaluating wines and grapes from odd places, you need to take the setting into consideration. I’ve had many terrible Tennessee wines. I’ve had a few good ones. None of those would stand up against the best of France, but evaluating them within the context of terroir and history is useful.
This is a good question: Terrior or Terroir?
Sometimes our developed likes or tastes go towards the least worthy or representative of a given varietal and region. I found myself liking the more fruity of the tempranillos. The recent airing of vine talk on PBS had the audience choosing the most fruity Rioja with perhaps the least influence of the oak. Blogs on this show have ranged from “delightful”, “pretty superficial”, to “just another reason why PBS should not get Federal funding”.
Wine and Politics – Why should anybody have to agree, anyway?
Thanks for your comments. Drink well my friend and stay thirsty.
Actually, Russ, what you describe is the hallmark of a wine professional, and we don’t see enough of it, Let’s say I don’t like sweet wine, but I’m required to taste German riesling (and not the grocery stuff, either, but the wines with all the long German quality words on the label). Do I just dismiss the wines because I know all sweet wine is lousy, or do I try to put my personal preferences aside and judge the wine on its merits, like a professional? That is not an easy thing to do, but it’s one of the prerequisites to be a great wine critic.
Maybe I expect too much from bloggers wrt professionalism in their posts and tweets. If they can’t show professional like qualities of questioning and query, and pursue bad mouth retoric they are nothing more than after-hours ego riders.
Personally I don’t see this as a quandry, but a fact of life that style preferences are different than quality. I work at a large retail shop where I specialize in Old World-style wines. However, our largest section by far is California, which typically displays a style I am not fond of. Regardless of my personal feelings about extracted, big oak wines, I would not be doing my job if I could not recommend a good example of a Cali Cab Sauv to a customer who does enjoy that style.
This strikes me as a challenge of separating business from hubris.
Cheers, and great post!
This is where professionalism and personality collide. I think that it is bred in. It’s so called “reality” show behavior. Rather than define a professional persona and serve a purpose and guide people based on facts, they just mimic the tough guy talk of reality TV.
I agree that as wine professionals, we are obliged to write and publish positive impressions of wine that we don’t personally like. I also believe that it’s okay to enjoy a wine that is flawed in terms of the conventions of our industry (think of all the oxidized Natural wines that I love to write about). But I also believe we mustn’t make the mistake that Freud made: our evaluations of wines are ALWAYS personal… the moment we pretend that we are able to transcend our human frailty, we have abandoned our mission (whether it be writing for a wide commercial audience or a private and intimate one). And we must also never forget one of the tenets of the feminist movement: the personal is always political. Ultimately, imho, the greatest wine writing emerges when it is approached as epistemology.
Now, if I only knew what epistemology meant….
Thanks for your comment.
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? As the study of justified belief, epistemology aims to answer questions such as: How we are to understand the concept of justification? What makes justified beliefs justified? Is justification internal or external to one’s own mind? Understood more broadly, epistemology is about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry. This article will provide a systematic overview of the problems that the questions above raise and focus in some depth on issues relating to the structure and the limits of knowledge and justification.