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THURSDAY THORNS
09/15/2011
Thursday Thorns
Gerald Asher Asks: What Are Wine Writers Really For

By Charles Olken

I must admit that the title of Mr. Asher’s latest epistle had me more than a little apprehensive, indeed, scared at the prospect of being told that I had somehow wasted almost four decades in the wine writing business.

You see, when Gerald Asher talks, I listen—especially when he talks about the very essence of my professional being. There is no writer I revere more than Mr. Asher. He is keenly analytical. He is honest and incisive in his appraisals. And, he is so much more interesting to read than I am that I just held on for dear life as I searched for his article under the title above.

And once again, Mr. Asher has said what I wish I had said, and he has said it better than I could. It is his view, and mine, of course, that wine writers must be educators. We are helpers along the road to wine enjoyment. I almost wrote “wine appreciation”, but that is too formal. It is not our job to make geeks out of wine enthusiasts, not our jobs to tell them what to think, what to drink, how their palates should or should not react. Educators do not do those things. Dictators do. And there are plenty of dictators in wine writing.

But, the great writers, the ones who might hold the smallest candle to the track that Mr. Asher has laid down are educators. They, we at Connoisseurs’ Guide I hope, speak not only to what we like but to why we like it. Speak not only to today’s pleasures but to the path that we foresee for wines with lovely futures. Speak not only to that future but why we think that future will unfold.

We all drink wine in the here and now, and, for better or for worse, most of that wine is fairly young. Some of it needs not to be aged to any good purpose, but when we pull the cork on a three-year old Kosta Browne or Williams-Selyem Pinot, we hopefully know not only that it is wonderful today but that it will be wonderful tomorrow, and even why it will be wonderful at some point down the road.

Like so many of Mr. Asher’s essays, this one asks questions of us and suggests that we will come to know the answers to wine knowledge when we are able to answer those questions. Connoisseurs’ Guide was founded well over three decades to help answer those questions. We taste lots of young wines, but we also taste lots of older wines.

I like to think that our approach is one that Mr. Asher would endorse. If not, we are not doing our jobs.

And now you know why I was so concerned when I went in search of his comments on wine writers. I found them at the link below. They are worth a read.

http://zesterdaily.com/zester-soapbox-articles/1050-wine-writers-shape-tastes-not-trends

Comments

In Love
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:9/15/2011 4:35:39 PM

You have to know that I am now, (thanks to you and Mr. Washam) a huge fan of Mr. Asher and his particular style of wine writing. The last paragraph in the piece you link here was simply beautiful and made me think about all those people that tight-assidly demand that you define what sensual or emotional flavors are. Oh and then proclaim that if you can't describe them than they can't exsist. Burns my ass that, as if they and their data collector buddies are the final say in anything. For many, not all but many, of us wine as a very emotional thing, a feeling beyond flavors and must weight.

 

Thanks for the link and hooking me up with a wine writer I can wrap my head and heart around.

Um...
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/15/2011 6:38:57 PM

Sam... Asher is not discounting the utility or validity of correct sensory descriptors.

On the contrary. He is in fact advocating paying close attention to a wine's organoleptics. He says "keep their early notes so they can refer to the clues they offer when discussing the same wine in its maturity" - his point is that by doing this; a taster/reviewer/evaluator can detect hallmarks of what a new wine may likely be like after a few years or cellaring.

There has to be a happy medium between the "buckets of adjectives" and "a terse frame". There are aromatic, flavor and structural characteristics of any wine that are indicators not only of the state and quality of a wine at the time of the initial evaluation (at the time of release, usually), but also how that wine will evolve with time and over what period of time.

That is what Asher seems to be talking about in the whole article - while (between the lines) bemoaning that most wines are made for immediate consumption and that nobody considers longevity and potential of wines during evaluation.

When he says "What we then have to say in response to what we find in the glass is as much emotional as it is intellectual anyway." he is not dismissing the intellectual: first you smell and taste and THEN you make some sort of analysis and prediction (non-emotional).

Your emotional response to the wine is your own and has no meaning for my own enjoyment or emotional response.

Asher seems to skirt that (and really demurs on the whole premise of his argument) in his last sentence

Thank You!
by Samantha Dugan
Posted on:9/15/2011 9:07:26 PM

Arthur, cannot thank you enough for telling what I should have taken from a piece I read. Such a knucklehead at times, thinking i could figure shit out on my own and all. Must be the "between the lines" business that threw me....seem to be without my secret decoder glasses today. Or, maybe writing, of the more literary and somewhat romantic in style is, much like wine....subjective and open to interpretation.

 

I am very aware that my personal response to wine is mine but in my fifteen years of walking cellar floors, being handed a glass of Montrachet by the gnarled hand of the farmer/winemaker that grew and made it, eating house cured pork products with Marcel Lapierre and his pals as they explain what Beaujolais is and where it fits....the putting a bottle of one of those wines in the hand of a customer that has read my stories and wants to taste that place and those people life's work...well I don't think I have it wrong. I have it different from you, that is for sure and I am guessing you and I are fine with that. I didn't and wouldn't tell you what you should have read or tasted. I only ask the same....

:)
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/15/2011 10:37:45 PM

Sam,

Only one us is right.

The universe operates according to its own laws and we merely observe it. We can chose to understand it on its own terms, which includes testing our interpretations or just taking our initial interpretations and running with them.

The most we can achieve with the latter is understand ourselves.

:)
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/15/2011 10:39:04 PM

Oh, and wine is NOT subjective. It's perception can be at times and its enjoyment always is.

Suibjective
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/15/2011 11:19:20 PM

Arthur--

The notion that wine is not subjective, only objective, is patently wrong. There are many objective measures as well as recognized standards for character that relate to both to place as well as variety, but the judgments that any given wine adheres or not to those standards is subjective. it is hedonistic and judgmental.

You might want to argue that those who do not understand your definitions nevertheless use those standards in determining what they like or do not.

The problem is that balance or acceptable tannin or other factors of judgment differ from taster to taster and while it is possible for Samantha to define a suggestion of acidity levels that she likes, and even to convert her preference into some kind of equation, but, deep down, her preferences are subjective, not objective.

:|
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/16/2011 8:25:08 AM

Charlie

Wine is not subjective: It's essence and make up do not change with the drinker just as the pitch of a note does not change when it's played for a tone deaf person.

 

Music, Art and Wine
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:9/16/2011 9:26:49 AM

The problem is not the immutable nature but the appreciation of that nature. The aprreciation and the love are totally subjective. Gold is objective. Art is subjective. Jason Pollack paintings do not change, but some love them and some hate them and some simply walk away shaking their heads. Yet the painting itself does not change.

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay, a big, rich, deep, high acid, low pH wine does not change, but some folks will taste it and not be bothered by its 15% ABV. Others will.

It is the judgments, and thus the tasting notes and the purchase decisions, that are subjective.

\:[
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/16/2011 11:21:16 AM

In your last sentece lies the crux of the problem.

People writing tasting notes and making judgments on wine SHOULD be trying to find ways to take their perspective/limitations/preferences/enjoyment to allow the reader to make a purchase decision which IS based on individual preference.

If musicians without perfect pitch can identify a note and tune their instruments (usually via relative pitch), then people who charge money for their assessments of wine should find a way to not leave thousands of readers and consumers in a position to guess or "calibrate" their preferences to one idividual's preferences.

 

\:[
by SUAMW
Posted on:9/16/2011 11:22:10 AM

That should be:

 

"People writing tasting notes and making judgments on wine SHOULD be trying to find ways to take their perspective/limitations/preferences/enjoyment out of the process in order to allow the reader to make a purchase decision which IS based on individual preference."

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