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THURSDAY THORNS
11/19/2015
Reports of the Death of Tasting Notes Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

By Stephen Eliot

First it was “points” that came under fire and more lately it has been the “tasting note” itself that has been treated with skepticism, and indeed, cynicism, from those who would protect us from opinion other than that the oh-so-reliable kind found for free by way of social media.

There are those who with some justification rail against wine descriptions that are so swollen and laden with ridiculously specific adjectives as to be useless, and I appreciate their pains, but there too many others that declare all tasting notes to be inherently worthless because they, just like any form of rating, are by definition subjective and therefore not to be trusted. It’s the same old “everybody has different and equally valid taste” argument that for me has grown as stale as last week’s baguette. Yes, much of what we observers of the wine scene have to say is subjective, but the sensory perception of things like alcohol, tannin, acidity, et al invoke as least an inkling of objectivity.

I am willing to commit the heresy of saying that I believe that there is an objective dimension to wine appreciation and, to large and trustworthy extent, a shared view among those of learned experience with wine about what is good, bad and indifferent. I do not hold with the unfettered libertarian view that beauty lies solely and wholly in the eye of the beholder. I am not willing to abandon my responsibility as a writer to look hard and deep at a wine, and find the words to convey what that wine is about. It is, after all, what all of us in the business of wine do; be it retailers, writers or sommeliers, we talk about wine and words are all that we have, and the reason for our existence is to offer educated advice.

It has been said the tasting notes reveal more about the taster than wine, and, while I am not sure about the word “more”, I do think that there is at least a kernel of truth in that observation and that is how it should be. If the note is considered, if it is not merely a string of meaningless words meant to impress with the writer’s vocabulary, then I am not only put off by any notion of bias. I may or may not agree, but if there is consistency to be found about preference of style and the writer’s standards for evaluative judgment, then there is great value to be had in those notes.

At the end of the day, if you want to know more, if you are not willing to spend thousands of dollars a month in trying several new bottles every day, it is about finding what for you is a reliable and interesting voice that expresses a consistent point of view. There are writers I like and trust and those that I do not. It is the same with sommeliers. But, the idea that the day of professionals has passed and that you can find all you need to know on Twitter, facebook and Yelp brings to mind the old bromide that a fool and his money are soon parted.


 

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Comments

No Subject
by doug wilder
Posted on:11/20/2015 12:00:24 PM

It is not an easy task to write about wine as thoughtfully as you and Charlie, and few outsiders fully appreciate the rigor of the tasting regimen that any of us undertake, Your point about retailers, sommelier and writers can be expanded on that not only are words our only currency, but more often than not it is where consumers first learn of a wine - creating the 'alpha case' that later ends up in Instagram, chatboards, or other crowd-sourced opinion. There is nothing wrong with experimentation and self-education if a consumer wants to explore independently. But few have the time, patience or the sheer curiosity to accomplish that, and along the way may spend hundreds or thousands on wines they don't like. That is where a wine professional is invaluable to narrow their list and a subscription resource usually pays for itself by avoiding, or finding a particular bottle. I am fine that not everyone needs what I do.

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