Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Points System

Having just written about the passion we in the trade feel for our new wine discoveries, now we're going to do a 180 and say a few things about objectivity in tasting as reflected in the points systems so ubiquitous in the modern wine culture.  Let's admit though that there is a problem with objectivity with regard to wine.  And that problem stems from my current belief that our objectivity is really pretty subjective.

Robert Parker is credited with starting the 100 point grading system for wines.  His approach was soon copied by the Wine Spectator and others. Parker is now retired from wine journalism having sold his Wine Advocate at the end of 2012.  The current journalist who wears the crown of worldwide wine authority is Jancis Robinson who works with a twenty point system.  Parker actually rated wines between fifty and a hundred points making his system effectively a fifty point system.  Now wine bloggers like myself and I'm sure there are hundreds of us, each regularly profess our own  expertise, self-validating our own wine rating system regularly.

There is another way to look at wine appreciation, by the way.  It is purely utilitarian and has to do with wine's place on the dinner table as a food accompaniment which is a very traditional approach to the subject.  Even here though I am sure there has always been a certain gamesmanship between self-professed experts as to which rich red wine works best with the goulash.

So here goes.  This is the way I rate wines.  Since I am so color deficient I bypass the color evaluation step and go to the nose.  The nose is all important.  Unfortunately my olfactory senses also leave much to be desired.   So I sip the wine, rolling it all around my mouth checking for body, complexity, and harmony in flavors before swallowing and exhaling.  Voila!  Done!

Except there's more.  Aside from the taste buds we always think of, there is another faculty for tasting that we typically overlook and that is thinking, itself.  Our taste buds, of course, inform our brain about what's going on in the mouth.  Then the frontal lobe of the brain processes that information for what is novel or familiar, appropriate or inappropriate.  Since our tasting experience is so individual, ie., subjective, any personal rating system is probably accomplished internally at this point.

But there's more.  Since there is very little that is new under the sun, most of my brain's wine work consists of referencing the wine in my mouth with my thirty-five year history of tasting which began with the European models presented to me by my mentor, Jim Sanders, the "father of the fine wine business in Atlanta".  As unfair to new world wines as it seems, I look for the length and traditional "wininess" of the European model in any wine I taste.

Yesterday during the Super Bowl I tasted four similarly priced wines from three different continents.  One was very good; the others, so-so.  So what were the points?  Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.

On Friday the 6th of February between 5 and 8pm, Dmitry Paladino of Ultimate Wines joins us for a tasting of California and Oregon wines.  Dmitry was born and raised in Brazil but educated in the sciences at UGA.  His wine knowledge is expansive with an emphasis on the current scene in California. 

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