I have often been asked by friends and family what I think of a particular wine. It seems the longer you do this for a living, people around you expect that you’re the Guru or Yoda of tasting. No doubt years of tasting fine wine helps hone one’s palate – or “train” may be the better word, discovering things you otherwise might have missed. But in the end, it’s still your palate and just because you can identify more flavors or recognize great complexity in a wine doesn’t mean it makes you right or better. It goes without saying that if a flavor in a wine is not to your liking, then the wine will receive less enthusiasm when asked what you think. I remember early on in my wine consumption days explaining to someone all the great things coming from a wine we were drinking. I said, “Can you taste those great blueberries, it’s all over this wine, it’s the signature of this wine, isn’t it great?” The person looked back at me and said, “Thanks. Now I know why I hate it, because I hate blueberries “. The point is, a wine can be perfect, in so many ways, balanced, varietal correct, but you still don’t like it. Why? Because you may not like some of the dominating flavor profiles in the wine. Markers that other’s look for as staples might not be your cup of tea. We make what I consider a great bottle of Chardonnay. But I am very quick to point out that this is not a ripe Chardonnay with honey and butter flavors. It has stony, minerality, and great pure fruit flavors as well as floral aspects. That’s what I like – lower alcohols and brighter acids! Is that better? Only your palate can tell you.
Let’s now relate this to the wine rating system that exists in the world today. Too many wine writers look into a glass and look for the flaw, or perceived flaw, in the wine first. I sometimes wonder if many of them even enjoy drinking wine with that first step taken. If a critic has markers in his head such as greenness in Cabernet, or the same in a whole cluster Burgundy, he’s looking there first. If there’s a perceived flaw in a wine from prior vintages, believe me, he’s looking for it again. Please don’t take this as disrespect for wine writers, on the contrary. I know and call many of them my friends. Human nature, however, cannot easily be run away from. If you want to find a flaw, if you want to not like something, then your brain will allow you that luxury. Simply put, you can find what you’re looking for if you try hard enough. On the other side of that is the wine writer who has a love affair with a certain producer. Giving years of high scores with a vested interest in the success of that producer because he may have laid it all on the line. Please don’t tell me you have never purchased a highly rated wine from a consistent maker only to get it home and say, “I Don’t Get It”? Well, if it has not happened to you then you’re better off than me. Of course this can all go back to point one which was trust your own palate. Never go blindly into the night on other’s advice. A critic is only a guide that can lead you to taking a chance; but in the end it’s up to you. Most critics are up front about these things. They would be the first to say trust yourself. But again, one man’s nirvana is another’s hell.
Let’s look at some other examples: old world Burgundy, the wines that inspired me to produce in the first place. How about a thing called Bret, or how about reductive qualities? Where do you stand? I know that Bret in small amounts can act as a spice, you’ve heard the term barn yard or funky. But those flaws have added another dimension especially in older red Burgundy. And kept in check, can add something magical to a wine, at least for me.
My advice is this: stay with same producers that you like very much. If you find another wine in the same price range and varietal that excites you more, then change. Bring in a few higher priced wines when you can, and try them. If the wine is truly better with longer finishes and lingers on your palate from flavors that are appealing, then buy some. Why? Because anything that stays with you longer means you don’t have to drink as much. In the end you might be spending less! When it comes to the critic, find one you agree with more often than not. If you agree 70% of the time, that’s a lot and you’ll win 7 out of ten times. But remember, there are some great wines in the 3 you left out. So make your buddy buy them just to be sure!
That’s my take. One man’s opinion. And like your tastes, it might not be palatable. So simply turn the page.
All the best and may you drink well forever,