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Stop Picking on Robert Parker (the Subjectivity of Wine Tasting)

Vinted on July 1, 2008 binned in commentary, wine tasting
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HiYa! If you're new here, you may want to Sign Up to get all the latest wine coolness delivered to your virtual doorstep. I've also got short, easily-digestible mini wine reviews and some educational, entertaining wine vids. If you're looking to up your wine tasting IQ, check out my book How to Taste Like a Wine Geek: A practical guide to tasting, enjoying, and learning about the world's greatest beverage. Cheers!

You can all stop picking on Robert Parker now.

The oft-followed and just as oft-maligned wine critic extraordinaire is doing you a favor.

A favor if you, like him, have a wine palate that tends towards the bombastic, that is.

A great post on the science of wine tasting over at Catavino.net (and how that science can be manipulated) got me thinking about the subjectivity of wine critiquing in general, and more specifically on the philosophical question: Can wine tasting can ever be totally objective?

So for this topic, you can view this article as the yin to Catavino.net’s yang. The conclusion of all of my philosophical pondering? All y’all need to cut Robert Parker some slack!

To bolster my exclamatory claim, let’s turn to the (not too difficult) task of finding someone smarter than me to explain it…

According to Tim Crane’s essay in Questions of Taste: The Philospohy of Wine:

“A wine cannot be appreciated for its intrinsic value unless it is drunk; the value of the wine is intimately related to the kinds of experience to which it gives rise.”

In other words: the trouble with appreciation is that you need to taste wine to appreciate it (well, I suppose for some of us it’s not really too much trouble). And because tasting itself is such a subjective act, it suggests that wine tasting is also at least somewhat subjective.

Does our tasting subjectivity preclude us from coming to some general consensus of how a wine tastes, or its relative quality? Probably not. Throughout history, what was generally considered “good” wine has changed substanitally. In another essay from Questions of Taste, Barry C. Smith puts it like this:

“Saying that the experience of tasting is a personal one need not prevent us from saying that it acquaints us with how a particular wine tastes, or from supposing that other people can be acquainted with that taste too.”

Man, I am really digging smart philosophers right now! What does all of this have to do with wine critics like Parker? It suggests 2 things:

  1. Critics don’t have to be thinking “universally” about wine because
  2. Our collective palates will decide what is and isn’t a “quality” wine.

There are studies that back this up. Vinography.com recently reported on two such efforts that compare wine reviews by major wine critics (including Parker, of course) – with different taste preferences. These critics have been in very close agreement on which Bordeaux wines have been the best, and they’ve been agreeing for decades. So there’s gotta be something to the “collective” wine palate as well as to our individual, subjective ones.

Back to Questions of Taste – also from Smith’s essay:

“Having the ability to asses and describe wines in one thing; having certain personal tastes is another. That we, and the wine critics, have personal tastes does not imply that all taste is subjective... Wine critics understand that they cannot overrule an individual’s personal tastes… The moral is that we must find the right critic to advise us, the one whose personal tastes or preferences are more nearly aligned with ours.


So – we’re all Right, and we’re All right. Dig it.

Now give Parker a break. He’s just trying to help out the people who like the fruit bombs. Including himself.

Cheers!

(images: palmspringslife.com, tuscany-cooking-class.com, winechocolate.org)

Wine Events: Wine on the Deck @ Teikoku Restaurant!

Vinted on June 29, 2008 binned in pennsylvania, wine industry events, wine tasting

Another (sort of) rare event plug here on 1WineDude.com – I don’t do these plugs too often, so when I do, it’s because I think that the event is really going to be cool. And in this case, I think the cool potential is very high: I personally know the two people selecting and pouring wine at the event, and they definitely know their wine (not to mention that they’re also really splendid people).

The fabulous Teikoku restaurant (where I recently covered an event featuring the wines of Penns Woods Winery) is hosting a wine tasting event this coming Thursday, July 3 2008.

I will be there – so if you’re attending, drop me a line and stop by to say hello.

Teikoku Restaurant
Thursday July 3, 2008 –
5:30 to 7:30 p.m
.

5492 West Chester Pike
Newtown Square
, Pennsylvania 19073

telephone
610.644.8270

Join us for an evening of Wine On The Deck with former sommelier and wine educator, Matthew Esser from Shiffrin Selections and wine educator and consultant, Heather Wright from Cellar Door Imports.

We will be featuring some new, off the beaten path pours, along with small bites from Executive Chef Takao Iinuma to compliment them.

$30 per person all inclusive

Space is limited, reserve now

Cheers!

A Wine Introduction (and Some 1WineDude.com Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes)

Vinted on June 27, 2008 binned in about 1winedude blog, learning wine, wine tips


Changes are afoot here at 1WineDude.com.

By the way, I recently learned that the first recorded use of “afoot” was in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” – which is way cool. I’m a nerd, I know.

Anyway, I’m making some slight changes in the footprint (ha-ha) of the blog posts. Basically, they will start to get shorter – easier for you to read, harder for me to write. And, I’m hoping that they will also start to become more frequent. I’ve got a newborn in the house, bear with me…

Today, I thought I’d offer you a small contribution I made a few years back to the world of wine knowledge. When I started this whole wine consulting thing, I was frequently asked to provide wine overviews – so I put together a handy presentation that gives an overview of what wine is all about – from the dawn of wine in history, all the way to why you taste those fruits in your glass:

You should be able to view the original presentation file in most versions of PowerPoint, or with the (free!) Impress tool from OpenOffice.org. Handiest of all, you can access it online in Flash (Ahhhh-ahhhh!) format here.

I think some of you fine folks out there may find it useful. Enjoy!

Cheers!

(images: handpicked.co.uk)

The Price is Right? What Influences Wine Prices

Vinted on June 24, 2008 binned in commentary, wine buying

How much is that bottle of wine in the window?

Not that you’d want to buy wine that’s been sitting in a window for any extended period of time, since it’s probably baked from the exposure to all of that light and temperature variation.

Anyway, I’m off to Chicago for a non-wine-related business trip. While this jaunt has nothing to do with vino, that hasn’t prevented people from asking me wine-related questions! One of those recent questions got me thinking:

“Some wines seem so expensive… are they really worth it?”

The fine folks asking me that question are just looking for some good old-fashioned knowledgeable advice. But what they don’t realize is that it’s really a trick question.

My reply is usually something along the lines of

“How much did you pay for your house? Was it worth it?”

I’m not trying to be a smart-ass (that comes naturally), I’m just trying to get them thinking differently about a wine’s price tag. Is the price right? And if it’s “right”, for whom is it right? You? Me? Everybody?

There is a very, very simple reason why expensive wines are expensive, and it has very little to do with whether or not that wine is “worth” the price vs. a comparison with a similar wine at a lower price…


Does quality impact the price? Sure, but just like a fine dining experience vs. a trip to In-N-Out Burger, there is a relative level of quality involved, which is in no way a determinant of whether or not you’ll actually like that expensive wine. But that’s not the fundamental reason.

What about production and distribution costs? Sure, they affect the price too. If a winery picks and sorts their grapes by hand, that’s going to be a lot more expensive to do than doing it all by machine. In those cases, the winery is certainly going to pass on the additional cost to you, and in return you’d expect that the wine is going to taste better than one where the machines missed a few snakes and lizards during the sorting process… But that’s not the fundamental reason, either.

And as for the critics? Unfortunately, there is no denying the impact of critis like Robert Parker, who has followers lining up behind him so blindly that they will buy wine simply on the score that he gives it, not taking into account their own dis/likes. So the herd mentality has an impact as well, since a good Parker rating can easily send a wine’s price over $30 / bottle. But it’s not the fundamental reason.

Look at it this way: If your house is in a great area and built by a respected builder, then likely people would be willing to pay more for your house than another house nearby that doesn’t have those things going for it.

Similarly, the reason that a Harlan Estates red can cost up to $900 USD / bottle is really because of one thing: People will pay that much for it.

A little bit of supply & demand, for sure, but fundamentally the market has decided that $900 is a fair price. Just like the market decides, over time, what your pad is worth. Somewhere, people are consistently paying that much to get in on the cache factor of owning some Harlan.

God bless ‘em. If you’re one of those people, let me know how that bottle tastes. But please, don’t tell me if you think it was “worth” the $900 (or not)!

Cheers!

(images: amcati.com, klwines.com)

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