Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When Numbness Sets In

The eloquence of nature...
Before starting Strictly Tasting (January 2005) I had been following several wine writers.  Around the same time I also subscribed to wine magazines and regularly visited websites of those in the trade and of amateurs. I had a library of everything from popular encyclopaedic volumes to Billy’s Best Bottles. I didn’t know it but at the time I was trying to determine how to find wines that appealed to my senses, quickly eliminating others and, since I was on a budget, automatically selecting ‘good, better, best value’. I hadn’t realized at this early stage that ranking wines let alone evaluating them would be uncharted, often controversial, territory… and I hadn’t realized the industry built around reviewing wines was essentially unregulated.

A few years into the blog I started a systematic review of sources having eliminated some that simply didn’t ’ring my chimes’.  I followed these with blog entries listing the wines tasted with ratings. These entries can be found through the links below. I also realized I was running into a problem for my own reviews - I was unregulated. I needed a tasting methodology accompanied almost immediately by a rating system and eventually a way of determining ’value’.

I started by summarizing my monthly tastings and then listed the wines both semi-annually and annually. The wines above an 85 rating and within budget would be my ‘value’ wines. I was able to spot candidates early from the monthly tastings and from my notes I could deduce wines for cellaring, house reds and whites, wines for special dinners and gifts for friends based on their preferences. The rating ‘number’ quickly narrowed down the candidate wines and if I acted quickly they were still available at an Outlet.

Initially for each Vintages Release I read LCBO notes marking several wines in their Shopping Lists for biweekly purchases. However, after a few Releases I sensed it was equivalent to asking a butcher if his steaks were tender. Consequently, I began to rely on three other sources, reviewers with palates closest to my own:
Rod Phillips , at the time with Winecurrent and later with his newsletter Winepointer, Gord Stimmell of The Star and Beppi Crosariol of the G&M. Was it a 100% match? No.  Why only local sources? These critics reviewed Vintages Releases regularly. Outsiders didn’t. 

Several months went by. There was only a so-so co-relation between my tasting notes and the sources.  I was now doubting the usefulness of narratives. Soon the only triggers I needed to prompt interest in a wine was a Label, a Rating and a Price. With these I have anchors to hang my ADD on. Reinforcing this transition was a viewing of the video of 
Gary Vaynerchuk and James Suckling  brown bag tasting 5 wines (February 6, 2011). Although very entertaining the content of value to me were the Labels (none available locally), the fact that James Suckling gave each wine a 90+ rating, and the Prices.  It’s confirmed… I am now numb to any form of narrative.

No one is so eloquent to capture the wonder of nature, not the crystallized lacework of  winter and not a simple glass of wine. Just give me the numbers. Those stimulate my inquisitive nature without reading another word.

Cheers, Ww

Early sources:

(1) Magazines
Toronto Life   May 2008
Wine Access   May 2008
Wine Spectator  May 2008

(2) Websites
Winepointer #6  May 2008
Winepointer #7  June 2008 
Inside Winealign  October 2009

(3) Newspaper columns
The Star (Gord Stimmell)   June 2008
Globe & Mail (Beppi Crosariol)   July 2008

(4) LCBO Promos
Red Wines 101   Feb 2009
The Inside Story   March 2009
Viva Vino   April 2009
Spring at last!   April 2009
Holiday   Nov 2009
goLOCAL   Nov 2009

(5) Books in the category ‘Best Wines’   
The 500 Best Value Wines 2010   January 2010
The 500 Best Value Wines 2011   November 2010
Wine Trials 2011   December 2010
Wine Trials 2010   July 2010

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