Monday, 9 September 2013

Assessing and enjoying wine

Over the summer there’s been considerable commentary and debate on wine assessment and a discussion on the matter even made it to the heights of the BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme. I won’t go into details here, but it seemed to start as a journalistic spat at the competence of wine judges with inconsistency cited as evidence. Robert Joseph does a comprehensive overview with references on his indispensable blog The Joseph Report.

For a while now I’ve been contemplating a post along the lines of why I find it so hard to assess wine. For example, wines I taste and subsequently buy can disappoint when consumed chez nous. It could equally be called why I don’t give scathing wine reviews or, more debatably, the difference between amateurs and pros. I touched on this a few years back with my post on scoring wine.

The factors that influence me I’ll coin, with an occasional bit of stretching, the 9 W’s.

Where at home, restaurant/bar, tasting, winery, outdoors, party, in-flight etc.
When time of day, maybe even the biodynamic calender
Who family, friends, like-minded company, “commercial” situations
Whence as in what was consumed (liquid or solid) in the build up to the moment
Whim personal frame of mind, mood, ability to concentrate, preconception, bad day
With/without food and what food
Weather temperature (including the wine), humidity, even aircon etc.
Within the stemware
 Wine bottle Stuff like when the bottle was opened, how recently bottled, storage conditions of older wines, state of the closure, tasted blind or not, knowledge of price.

These are all reasons why passing judgement on a wine with one encounter is often unfair. It may also explain why I often don’t “get” a wine on first tasting, but find it can grow on me with subsequent encounters.

I have most success in finding wines that become favourites from friends, more serious restaurant lists and caviste recommendations. Least successful is at busy stand-up tastings where I can be wowed by tasting samples of over oaked reds and obvious aromatic whites that never work at home, or indeed anyone's home. My theory is that in line-ups subtle understated wines are easily overlooked, out shouted, if not even bullied by bolder styles. All of this can be magnified by unfamiliar surroundings. Perhaps it's really a debate on the subjective vs. objective approach.

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