Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Grape, Wine and Style

Epiphanies only come to me once or twice a year and I have to get them down on paper in case they’re meaningful – so please excuse me while I expound (rant). I’m beginning to think there’s a profound difference in how ‘we’ taste wine. When I taste some wines, I just plain don’t like them! …and I can tell you exactly what I dislike. And yet critics may have rated the same wine into the high numbers.

I know it’s not the ‘grape’… the grape itself is innocent, in fact noble. A grape on the vine does its best sapping up as much as nature and the soil around it has to offer. But then it’s collected by hand pickers or machines, stomped by feet or basket press and fermented, aged in whatever then bottled and aged again. This last of the sequence produces ‘wine’. Conceived and executed by man the wine is an option of its maker. Some grapes go through a manufacturing process and some a winemaking process – no one can hold the grape responsible for whatever the process. At times the maker’s option can suit a ‘style’ following certain producton steps or methods founded in history.

When a wine critic judges the liquid in front of him giving it a number using whatever system, is he judging the grape, is it the wine or is it the style? I’m convinced many critics waver among these – like shifting from one foot to another trying to stay balanced - using any relevant knowledge that comes to mind at the time of individual swirls and sips. A ‘wine’ rating can end up including factors never intended as part of a merit level.

You and I may have an advantage over the critic. I’m certainly not trained as an oenophile. I’m just a consumer. I rate wines according to ‘Do I like it?’ After I decide that question I look into my wallet and decide whether my liking a wine is balanced by a desire to cellar a few bottles. Price is clearly a budgetary consideration and not of my merit system. And I could care less if Vouvray is known for a style of chenin blanc. Nor could I care if a flying consultant has participated in the production of a wine... or if Count whoever’s family planted the original vines that form a Bordeaux legend. Sidelights make an interesting column but aren’t part of a merit system. The net is I don’t give points for the ‘grape’ nor ‘style’ - just the ‘wine’.

On the other hand, a critic may decide a wine to be an oyster shucking aperitif and decide what the resulting merit parameters should be. Or a critic could know a wine comes from Chablis and decide it should taste of clay or pluvial soil and assign pluses or minuses accordingly. Or, on the scale of 1 to 5 how ‘burgundian’ is this Niagara pinot noir? In a perfect world a wine critic should not know or consider beforehand where, what, when or why of the bottle from whence his sample is poured - but you can’t undo knowledge – you have to channel it.

Wines should be sampled depending only on the sensory abilities of sight, smell and taste. Develop these senses and you are your own wine judge. First, based on your tasting experience, you determine ‘Do I like the aroma, the flavours and how the wine leaves my palate?’ Then, after the first foot is in place, you put the second foot down… ‘When would I like to have this wine again?’ Now you're standing firm. The ultimate goal is to confidently choose a wine for a particular occasion, a family supper table or a candle lit evening. You choose the ‘wine’ - then ‘grape’ and ‘style’ will fall in line.

Now I’ll return to my cage… cheers,

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